Fear, complacency and the spectacle of risk: the making of HIV as a public concern in Australia

Health (London). 2009 Jan;13(1):7-23. doi: 10.1177/1363459308097358.


This article explores how HIV is constituted as a matter of public concern in Australia, where - unlike much of the rest of the world - there is a continuing low incidence of heterosexual transmission. In this context, it is timely to explore how the media contributes to the ongoing mobilization of public interest in HIV, and how heterosexual audiences are brought into focus as the imagined ;publics' of mainstream debates on HIV. This article identifies three approaches to generating public concern in HIV news stories published in The Sydney Morning Herald between 2000 and 2005 as well as in academic media analysis and HIV education and advocacy. Reflections on fear revisit the early years of the epidemic, distinguishing a generation of Australian audiences shaped by the Grim Reaper campaign. Encounters with complacency focus on an apparently widespread lack of concern about HIV in the present. And projections in risk forecast a multiplication of HIV risk environments, despite confusion about who should be personally concerned about those risks. Together they construct Australian publics as passive, vulnerable, unaware and potentially uncaring, yet do little to engage the mainstream as more than spectators of public concern about HIV.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Fear
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections* / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections* / transmission
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Journalism, Medical
  • Mass Media*
  • Newspapers as Topic
  • Risk Assessment*