Since the publication of the Leveson report, we have heard a lot about the need for a “Scottish solution” and the need to “protect the vulnerable” from poor practice by some unethical elements of the fourth estate, while at the same time ensuring press freedom.
It’s hard to disagree. Scotland and its people need a strong press which exposes wrong-doing and fears no person or organisation. We need a press which is responsive to the changing face of Scotland, and acknowledges its power to lead public opinion and the responsibility that brings.
Much has been spoken of the need to protect celebrities and victims of crime from press intrusion and unethical practice, but it’s time to raise a far less covered area of poor reporting which appears daily. It is still seen as acceptable, in some parts of the press, to make casual reference to people with mental health problems as “psychos, schizos and nutters”. This is appalling and people with mental health problems are perhaps the only discriminated-against group still to be treated in this way. Terms like these are offensive to people with all forms of mental illness, and it hurts. It would be completely unheard of in 2012 for someone to be spoken of in an equivalent way because of their colour, gender, faith or physical disability.
The Leveson report says the “power of the press to reach a wide audience, whilst having the capacity to do great good, carries certain risks” and that “views expressed through the press megaphone are more likely to dominate”.
The Scottish public agrees. In a 2011 survey, nearly two thirds of people thought the way mental health problems are reported had a negative influence on society and 86 per cent thought newspapers had a responsibility to report mental health issues responsibly and in a non-sensationalist manner. It’s a common response by editors that the press just follows the public and doesn’t lead. The public doesn’t think so, and Leveson agrees with them.
The Leveson report presents an opportunity for Scotland to have the press we deserve. To do that we – and the Scottish Parliament when it discusses Leveson – need to make clear that offensive reporting of mental illness is no longer acceptable.
• Suzie Vestri is director of See Me, Scotland’s national campaign against mental health discrimination.