The dangers of dramatising real life

The events in Cumbria this week have been nothing short of horrific. My deepest sympathy goes out to the friends and family of all the people affected by Derrick Bird’s evil actions. And may those who were cruelly taken from the world by this man rest in peace.

There is no need to dramatise an event like this though. It is more than ‘dramatic’ enough already. But some of the reporting I’ve seen on both the TV and in the papers has been so flamboyantly exaggerated, it’s made the whole thing look like some kind of dramatic twist in East Enders rather than a truly shocking and sad real-life event.

Friday’s headline in The Sun topped it all off, with: “Psycho cabbie flipped over £100k tax bill”.

A psychotic illness, which the Sun seems to be inferring Bird had, is a very serious and burdensome condition that many people around the word have to live with.

I’m currently coming towards the end of a Masters in Journalism. As part of the course this year we attended a press conference with Shift, an organisation which works to remove mental ill-health discrimination. During this the organisation briefed us on how badly the press handle mental illness in their reporting.

And because they are so flippant with the use of words such as ‘psycho’, we start to believe that mental illness is a key driving force when it comes to horrific crimes.

In fact I was myself very surprised to find out during the press conference that the odds of being killed by a stranger who is mentally ill is one in 10 million. That is the same chances as being struck by lightning.

In fact the sad reality of the situation is that people with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of attacks themselves, due to under-recognised hate crimes directed towards them through no fault of their own.

And apart from all this, I am yet to hear any concrete evidence which shows Bird had a mental illness. I have read the above article in the Sun and even there they fail to adequately explain the use of the word ‘psycho’ in their headline.

Accuracy is key in journalism. Reporters need to understand how much of an impact they can and do have on people’s perceptions. They shouldn’t ‘use’ events like those which have occurred in Cumbria this week to sell newspapers, or up viewing figures.

They should report such sensitive topics with great care and respect. And I would like to think that we are not all so hardened in today’s society that we cannot understand the magnitude of a massacre when it is put to us in plain, simple language.

By Sophie Hudson


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