May 14, 2012

Should journalists report on eating disorders the way they report suicides?

The Ryerson Review of Journalism looks at the ethics of reporting on eating disorders. Some of the highlights:

 “There are standards when it comes to reporting on suicide, but when it comes to eating disorders we’re still blaming the victim.”

 “To me, it’s like providing suicide tools for someone who is suicidal when you report about someone’s diet. You’re not reporting on how someone committed suicide because you don’t want to give anyone who may be in that framework any more ideas; you should be doing the same thing with eating disorders.”

For example, when writing a story about an eating disorder that includes details about that individual’s calorie consumption, how much weight she lost, and what she did in order to lose that much weight, journalists must also describe the effects that lifestyle had on her physical, mental, and emotional health; what it did to the people around her; why this person behaved the way she did; and how eating disorders develop and their long-term effects. The same rules should be followed when reporting on any health issue that can or used to be stigmatized like suicide, schizophrenia, depression, or cancer.