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Media Ethics

January 25, 2008

Labeled "insane" and "likely bipolar" by the media, pop star Britney Spears has become the sensational focus of many top stories. The media and even mental health professionals have presumed to diagnose her behavior, based on analysis of photos or 30-second news clips—raising concerns about professional ethics.

An Associated Press story describes the backlash at the national convention of the American Psychoanalytic Association.

Stigmatizing language, sensationalism, and concern for treatment and recovery also are issues. Roy Peter Clark, vice-president of the Poynter Institute, a leading center of journalism training and ethics, wrote in an on-line column: "One of the terrible side effects of America's celebrity and media culture is a pervasive cynicism about addiction and mental illness… but there is clearly a danger zone, when life and health are at stake, when the best thing the press can do is back off. That time for Spears is probably now."

Some believe, however, on the positive side, that as a news story, media coverage is an opportunity to educate people about mental illness, symptoms and treatment.

NAMI’s latest StigmaBuster Alert suggests ways to speak out to demand media sanity, hold the media to higher ethical standards and question presumptions behind headlines. Comment also on-line to BP Magazine.

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