Capitalism: incentivising sensationalism, taking advantage of our biases and damaging our mental health | Plymouth Herald journalist in breach of ethics?

After tragedy, people tend to look for something or someone to blame. For some, the most difficult part of recovering from sudden shock is accepting the often chaotic and blameless nature of events.

One mental obstacle we can face in this situation is confronting, if we have it, our “just world bias”. This is a simple belief, sometimes instilled through religious institutions, that all the world’s consequences are the results of a universal force that restores moral balance. This bias can cause people to rationalise others’ misfortune as deserved without considering actual causes or it can cause people to remain apathetic to public issues surrounding them as they can just leave the state of the world up to the universal balancing force. Obviously, shedding our just world bias and accepting the moral responsibility that comes with agency is in the best interests of everyone.

Another issue we encounter when tragedy strikes is the sensationalism of the media. This problem is also tied up with capitalism as media outlets are implicitly encouraged to be sensationalist because it sells papers.

On November 19th I came across an article in the Plymouth Herald with the headline “Much-loved Plymouth headteacher [sic] took her own life after ‘inadequate’ Ofsted inspection”. I believe that this headline is misleading to the extent that the author is in breach of journalistic ethics and should be subject to internal disciplinary procedure as appropriate.

Firstly, it could be mistaken to mean that the OFSTED inspection was itself inadequate; rather than the actual meaning which was that OFSTED rated the head teacher’s school as inadequate. Secondly, the headline could be taken to imply that this tragic death was a direct response to the inspection.

In the comments on the Herald’s Facebook link to the article, views were divided with some feeling that it was inappropriate and disrespectful for the Herald to report this story. Of course, while I sympathise with all those affected by this dreadful incident, I think this is the kind of story we need to hear more of- obviously, not because I want this to happen more, but because it already does and people aren’t aware of it.

Mental health in the UK, thanks to campaigns like “Time to Talk”, is an issue that we are increasingly becoming aware of yet, according to figures from charities like Mind and the Governmental ONS, it is still worsening. (And it will only worsen still as the current Tory Government continues its vicious programme of class warfare.)

Some commenters on the Facebook link also expressed anger at OFSTED, perhaps looking for something to blame, perhaps misled by the atrocious headline. Others pointed to the immense pressures teachers are under- which should actually concern us. However, looking to blame something or someone will not bring closure and may cause us to prematurely stop investigating the cause of such a tragedy.

With this particular case, had OFSTED known about any mental health issues prior to their inspection, it probably wouldn’t have changed anything as their inspections should be completely impartial and objective, considering and reviewing how the needs of pupils are being met. Further, to blame OFSTED would be to denigrate those suffering from serious illnesses, such as depression, as it implies that the disease isn’t complex and life-threatening in itself. Unfortunately, we will never be able to find for certain the “straw that broke the camel’s back” (for lack of a better metaphor as I failed to find one online) but really, we shouldn’t be looking for that- we should be looking at the straw already piling up and questioning that.




Editor’s Notes:

This will be published on TheKnowledge, official student newspaper of Plymouth university’s student union, UPSU. 

Sorry for the lack of content recently- new semester at university. I have some more article ideas and do plan on finishing the commentary series on the US political science journal article “US is an oligarchy?” but mostly my writing here will be an archive of stuff I write for the student newspaper or bits and pieces I create during university that I think might be suitable here. 

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