Monday, 28 November 2011
media reporting - public interest vs what interests the public?
Yesterday Wales football manager Gary Speed died. He was just 42 years old, and it is believed he took his own life.
Within hours of reporting the news, the press had gone one further and reported the time he had been found, and the circumstances in which he had apparently taken his own life.
This for me raises the question as to how much we really need to know when a story is reported. I do actually think it absolutely right that it be reported that a man who was quite prominent in football, had a well-documented career, was well liked and well respected had chosen to commit suicide, at a time when people didn’t appear to know there was any indication he was planning to do so. I think all too often that mental illness and depression goes unreported and that it’s much easier to sweep it under the carpet and to pretend that it doesn’t exist.
However, there is surely a line between what is in the public interest here, and the issues that raises, and what it could be argued simply interests the public, in terms of the details that are provided.
That a well-known public figure has chosen to end his own life is something I think we should be aware of. After all, you can’t just report that someone has died, as often the circumstances surrounding their death may raise further awareness of particular issues, and in this case may bring the issue of depression to the fore and perhaps even bring help to others who are going through the same. But the way in which that person chose to end their own life is and should remain personal to them and their family.
This sort of reporting is fairly commonplace in the media. It is not uncommon, for instance, when reading about a particular family’s tragedy, to also be told details which have no bearing on the particular issue, such as the value of their home, or their relationship status.
How much someone’s house is worth or whether or not they are married or divorced, cohabiting or a single parent is generally not in the interest of the story being reported. But the media would argue that in order to build a profile of the person they are reporting on, and to make that person more personable to the public, it is necessary to report on these details.
I disagree. The public may in some instances be interested to know how much someone’s house cost, or may form a judgement based on someone’s marital status, but it is not in their interests to know. Just because something interests the public doesn’t make that in the public interest, and it is surely high time the press realized that and started reporting accordingly.
Gary Speed’s family are no doubt going through their own personal hell at the moment. It is bad enough that they know how he died, without that fact having been published in the national newspapers where presumably, his children will be able to read it, or even accidentally stumble across it in the future.
And perhaps the press should question whether it is that the public wants to know, or whether they want to tell us.