The Only Way is Ethics: Disability and illness are no longer sources of prejudice, but the media still needs to be wary

Defining an individual in terms of a condition they live with is best avoided


Over the past decade there has been a genuine advance in media coverage of subjects touching on disability and illness. The days when individuals with psychological disorders were liable to be labelled “nutter” are, one hopes, consigned to the past.

There are several reasons for this change. Representative groups and charities have improved the ways they interact with the media – the relationship, once frequently confrontational, is now generally collaborative. The Press Complaints Commission did considerable work around reporting mental health, which also had a positive impact. Celebrity revelations of mental illness, and the barrier-breaking ability of social media, have had the effect of reducing prejudice. The profile of the London 2012 Paralympics raised awareness that physical disability is no obstacle to achievement.

Guides about appropriate terminology can be hugely helpful to journalists. But that isn’t to say there are not occasional slips. As a matter of policy, The Independent avoids the term “handicapped”, and rightly so, given its dated connotations. Its appearance in a news report a couple of weeks ago was very much the result of an oversight, rather than a return to outmoded phraseology.

Similarly, defining an individual in terms of a condition they live with is best avoided. A recent report on our website, about a man whose epileptic seizure had been mistaken for violence by the police, was perfectly worded except in its headline reference to “epileptic son”.

It is possible to be too coy, of course, and there will always be the PC-gone-mad brigade who would call a spade a spade, even if it objected and pointed out that it was a trowel. There is certainly a balance to be struck. But the strides made in recent years to improve understanding of physical and mental impairment have been hugely important. Continued media vigilance is crucial if those advances are not to be undone.

No profit for monkey business

Our front page last Thursday included a joyful image of a grinning macaque who, back in 2011, took the ultimate selfie – much to the surprise of wildlife photographer David Slater, whose camera had been nabbed by the cheeky monkey.

The image has hit the headlines again because of a dispute over the rightful copyright owner. The Wikimedia Foundation, owners of Wikipedia, has argued that Mr Slater has no legitimate claim because he did not take the picture. Sadly for the macaque, it seems that copyright cannot vest in non-human photographers, so he won’t be raking in royalties. Wikimedia says the image falls into the public domain.

Mr Slater disagrees and argues that he took specialist equipment half-way around the world in order to capture images of macaques in their natural habitat; he hired a local guide and walked with the primates for several days; in short, he created the precise circumstances in which an inquisitive animal could pick up his camera and take a load of snaps.

Mr Slater surely deserves to benefit from onward use of an image that he, in effect, created. But how about this: I go to Indonesia to photograph the flora and fauna with my four-year-old in tow. I set up my kit, I create the right conditions and then discover that my own little monkey has fired off a set of pictures, among which is a corker. My moral right to benefit from sales of the picture may be similar to Mr Slater’s but the law would presumably side with the kiddiewink. Perhaps that’s just the difference between monkey business and child’s play.

Will Gore is Deputy Managing Editor of The Independent, i, Independent on Sunday and the Evening Standard Twitter: @willjgore

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas