It’s amazing the number of topics you can potentially fit under one all encompassing heading. English truly is the language of kings – diplomats can keep their French, and IT nerds their C++…

Topic 1 – Owen Wilson
Ethically speaking journalists should not report on suicides – or attempts – for fear that it encourages copycat attempts. One wonders how many young girls have shaved their heads, attacked cars with umbrellas and undergone “mental breakdowns” since Britney made it cool… but I digress – the Courier Mail ran a sidebar par on Owen Wilson’s hospitalisation under the heading “star stable” – I’m not sure he is, I think that’s the point.

Topic 2 – Equine Flu

I’m glad I’m not a horse I think I’d be sick of being stabled at the moment. I can only surmise that book keepers are the only people sicker than Australia’s horse population.

Topic 3 – AFL

Teams in the AFL are able to strengthen their stable of talent through a draft system that gives priority picks to poorly performing teams to help keep the competition on a stable keel. This presents an interesting dilemma when teams – like Melbourne and Carlton – are positioned on the table in such a way that to win the final round would be detrimental to the team’s draft opportunities. Carlton and Melbourne are on even points. They sit at 14th and 15th on the table – my understanding, and I hate AFL, is that 15th and 16th get the pick of the litter when it comes to the draft. Carlton just happen to play Melbourne in the last scheduled game of the AFL’s season proper – both teams want to lose – they can’t acknowledge that publicly of course – but this is one game of AFL that I feel compelled to watch.

There are more topics I could mention that are variations on the “stable theme” – wrestling for instance and my desire to see stables formed again to provide momentum for feuds, or my inability to surf, skate or do anything that requires a sense of balance or stability – I can’t even do a forward roll… and then there’s the fact that in just a few short weeks I will be entering the stable state of marriage – and the even keel our planning finds itself on now that invites and housing have been sorted… but I’ll leave those until next time.

33 thoughts on “Stable”

  1. It’s ethical for journalists to report suicide/attempt on the grounds that it is of particular public interest and the method used is not explained in the article.

  2. Well Miss Ethical Journalist,

    I can hardly see how Owen Wilson’s private decision to slit his wrists (as outlined by the article) – is of public interest.

    Also, I’m the one with the degree in Journalism already.

  3. One of Australia’s best Journalism schools? Most universities don’t even *have* Journalism degrees :P

    And I didn’t say Owen Wilson’s “private decision to slit his wrists is of public interest”. Did I? No. I said nothing about Owen Wilson. I said nothing about whether that journalist was in the right or wrong to write about him.

    And *you* might have a Journalism degree, but when it comes to my lecturer who has worked in the industry for 20 years and someone who’s had his degree for 2, I know who I am trusting when it comes to deciding what is ethical :P

  4. I’m not sure that is a very sound manner of thinking Leah. Ethics is much too tricky to simply say that someone who has been around longer automatically is more trustworthy on the issue than someone who has been around for less time.

    I am not about to say who is right and who is wrong (although in general I hate that celebrities are made out as a public issue, highlighted by the recent medical records being released about the AFL players; but that is a story for another day) BUT when there are hundreds of people in my profession with whom I disagree vehemently regarding ethics, and they’ve been around a lot longer than me. That doesn’t make me wrong just because they are consultants and I’m a student; all it means is that they come from a different world view.

  5. Here’s a little anecdote about the appropriate reportage of suicide.

    Some moons ago, in Brisbane, many people were ending their lives by throwing themselves off the Storey Bridge. Well meaning journalists were sick of hearing the stories – and well meaning ambulance medicos were sick of scrapping up bodies – so they put their heads together and decided to start reporting every suicide to create a groundswell of public support to pressure the government into improving fencing and security on the bridge. It worked. This is ethical reporting and one of the only grounds I can think of where suicides should be reported.

    I think there’s probably a public interest difference between actual and attempted suicide – I don’t think there’s ever a justifiable case for reporting an attempt.

  6. Also – writing broad statements like “Ethically speaking journalists should not report on suicides – or attempts – for fear that it encourages copycat attempts”
    does not lend itself to listing every exceptional circumstance – as a generalisation suicides should not be reported.

    I’m not sure who you felt needed the clarification – which actually ended up clouding the issue.

  7. Joel,

    I would never accept a lecturer’s opinion simply based on the fact they have experience. But I know what her reasoning is behind it, and I agree with it. The fact she has experience only adds to that.

  8. And Nathan, I didn’t say “Ethically speaking journalists should not report on suicides – or attempts – for fear that it encourages copycat attempts” or anything like it, so I’m not sure exactly who was clarifying/clouding up the issue there.

  9. no, I said that. And you responded with your correction/clarification/whatever it was.

    “It’s ethical for journalists to report suicide/attempt on the grounds that it is of particular public interest and the method used is not explained in the article.”

    You provided a particular exception to a general rule – not the general rule.

  10. I wasn’t trying to provide a rule. You made a generalisation, I only pointed out that there are exceptions.

  11. Had I been lecturing journalism ethics I may well have pointed out the exception – my intended audience isn’t journalism students trying to learn their craft – it’s the people who read my blog. Also, the exception wasn’t really valid here – they gave details on the method in the story and I’d argue it doesn’t meet the public interest criteria – particularly in Australia.

    Plus I just thought it was shoddy reportage and a terrible heading.

  12. Giving the method is bad for sure. But Owen Wilson *is* a celebrity, (and a self-made one, not just a wrong-place-wrong-time one), so I think it’s definitely of public interest.

    Then again, it could also depend on which publication it was in.

  13. PS- and if it was in the Courier mail’s Entertainment/gossip section then I think it’s fair enough. Not something that deserves the front page or anything.

  14. You raised an interesting point there Leah, about self-made celebrities. I understand that they knew what they were getting into when they decided to be an actor, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t entitled to privacy. I say this for a couple of reasons.

    Firstly, I think that in *most* cases (this one may be an exception) the fact that the public care is a very, very sad. So Britney shaved her head. Who cares. Get over it and get a life. (not you Leah…people in general)

    Secondly, if someone develops lung cancer becuase they work in a bar and inhale passive smoke, you don’t say to them “Too bad, so sad; it was your choice to work in a bar.” I see it being the same with celebrities. It is none of our business if one of them has a drug problem and needs rehab. That goes double for medical records. It is nothing short of abhorrent that channel 7 published the medical records of those football players, that was NONE of their (or our) business. Same with Owen Wilson. This one is tricky, because he is obviously unwell and people want to know that he is okay (see first point about this one being an exception) but I still think that it is entirely up to him if he wants to release the information, and noone else.

  15. Joel- Of course they are entitled to privacy, but your parallel with the bar attendant is a bit off.

    An actor purposefully puts themself in a position of celebrity. I realise a bar attendant puts themself in a position of passive smoking, but the difference is that being an actor is largely about attracting the audience’s (and consequently, public’s) attention. Being a bar attendant is not about passive smoking.

    It’s clear that with the AFL/Channel 7 issue Channel 7 is in the wrong. Not just ethically, but legally. Medical records should be kept private. There is an issue of confidence that the patient has in his doctor or hospital for those records to remain private.

    You say that Owen Wilson’s incident is none of our business- I would argue that Owen Wilson has made himself our business, and so (even if I don’t really care) it’s still quite ethical to be reported upon.

  16. Technically Seven is not in the wrong. They didn’t steal the medical records – nor did they obtain them illegally. They are legally in the clear – because the legal test is slightly less stringent than the ethical test. The Public Interest Test is probably satisfied in the AFL taste – legally speaking, but perhaps not ethically.

  17. Owen Wilson has put himself in the public spotlight for his craft, that is, acting. He has not put himself in the public spotlight for his private life, which especially includes his medical illnesses (of which his attempted suicide was obviously a manifestation, as is his treatment thereafter). Should he choose to expose them, that is his choice, but it is not our right to know or even to investigate.

  18. Seven didn’t obtain them illegally, but something illegal happened for the records to be leaked. But Seven are still clearly in the (ethical) wrong.

    Joel: based on your theory, it then follows that if Peter Beattie slit his wrists, it’s up to him whether the public finds out or not, because he put himself in the public spotlight for his occupation (that is, politics), not his private life. When of course that’s just absurd, if Peter Beattie slit his wrists the Queensland public deserves to know.

    I’m not defending people’s obsession with celebrities, I really couldn’t care less, but the point remains, these are people who have purposely put themselves in the public spotlight and attracted attention to themselves. As such, it is only reasonable that they expect less privacy (certainly not none, but less)- and I would say especially so in a life-or-death situation.

  19. If the players in question had been strong anti-drug campaigners and school ambassadors would it have been wrong for Seven to broadcast the records? I don’t think so. It was wrong for their source to flog the medical records and questionable for them to pass it on – but the fact is – for any accountability to exist through the media there needs to be leaks – people who are prepared to blow the whistle on wrongdoing. Our governments are moving further and further away from open and accountable practices (FOI laws being tightened etc) – journalists must be free to report information they receive – provided it is true – however they receive it.

  20. I also think the “ethics” of reporting suicide are stupid – I don’t think suicidal people will be largely impacted by the fact that Mr Wilson tried to kill himself. Chances are they already know how to top themselves. It’s not that difficult to figure out – anything that makes you stop breathing will kill you. I actually think it’s a bad case of political correctness.

  21. Flawed analogy with Peter Beatie Leah. First of all, Owen Wilson has no say in the running of anything that has a tangible effect on anyone elses life; Peter Beatie does. And he was elected so BY the public FOR the public. So if something happens to him, then it IS in the publics interest and right to know, because he was elected to a position of governing power, and the electorate has a right to know who is running their state/country, and, to a lesser degree, their lives.

  22. As for the medical documents, it is probably the doctors/nurses/ward clarks head who should roll on that one. The story I head was that the records were found on a sidewalk (sounds like a dodgy story to me but what do I know). If that was the case then the hospital staff have a case to answer. That doesn’t absolve channel 7 of responsibility, but it certainly puts someone else in the crosshairs.

  23. Provided Seven believed they “fell off the back of a truck” to begin with – they are in no trouble whatsoever – and publishing the story was the right thing to do. Particularly because it’s actually a great scoop in a time where media rivals are more answerable to shareholders than ever before, and competition between viewers is as it is. They have a responsibility to broadcast news – and this is news.

  24. Joel, I totally agree with what you said about Peter Beattie, but I was basing what I said on your original logic, simply to point out that it was flawed. You can’t not report on an aspect of someone’s private life just because they’ve put themselves in the public arena for a different reason.

    As for Channel 7, if they really did just find it lying around in a public place then yes it was ok (still not right) to publish the article. I think they still shouldn’t have published it because it was probably quite clear they were someone’s private medical records. But I have troubles believing they just “fell off the back of a truck” and were just “found” on a pathway.

  25. I think it comes down to this- if a broadcaster is in the right for publishing a footballer’s private medical history involving drug use, then a newspaper is also in the right for publishing an actor’s suicide attempt. You can’t say one is right and the other is wrong. They are both public figures who have done something of interest to the public.

  26. No – the underlying ethical issue is different.

    When a celebrity attempts to top themselves it is a suicide attempt – reporting these is an ethically grey area for fear of copycat attempts – regardless of celebrity status.

    Publishing medical records of sportstars is an accountability thing. Maybe if Owen Wilson had been publicly campaigning against suicide it would have been the same thing.

    It’s apples and oranges – sure, they’re both ethical questions but guided by different ethical principles.

  27. While this is not the parameters of the “public interest” test – which means it’s in the public’s interest to know – not that it is interesting to the public…

    I’m much more interested in sportspeople taking drugs than in an actor’s attempt to kill himself – particularly when the sport’s governing body promotes itself as tough on drugs.

  28. It depends what grounds you’re arguing on. If you’re arguing that Owen Wilson’s attempted suicide shouldn’t be reported on simply because he put himself in the public spotlight for his acting and not his private life (like Joel did) then you can similarly argue that the AFL players’ records shouldn’t be reported on, because they put themselves in the limelight for their sporting ability, not their private life. If you’re using that particular ethical principle, it can be applied in both situations.

    As for what you’re interested in, that doesn’t really rate, because it’s the public whose interests journalists are looking out for, not their own. That’s not a matter of ethics.

    What I’m interested in is quite the reverse. I was surprised and (mildly) interested when I heard Owen Wilson had tried to kill himself, simply because I’d never really thought he’d be the suicidal type.
    Footballers and drugs on the other hand? What’s new?

    Still, my opinions aside, I completely understand Seven’s choice to publish the material, provided they didn’t obtain the material illegally. Sure, it seems they didn’t, but a) we don’t really know what they knew and b) something illegal and very unethical happened somewhere along the line for that material to get into Seven’s hands.

    As for Owen Wilson and any other suicide attempt, I’m sure we all agree there are times when it’s ethical to report on such a thing. It just depends what constitutes such a situation. And I think the level of public interest, along with his prominence, is reason enough. We might not be interested in celebrities like that, but a huge chunk of the population is.

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