Equal Opportunities Commission


E-news Issue 183


EOC Chairperson calls for responsible reporting on people with mental illness

Few institutions wield as much influence as the “Fourth Estate”, and in this age of information explosion, the media are often tempted to resort to sensationalism in their quest for readership and the ultimate viral story. But what if such dramatisation comes at the expense of stigmatising marginalised groups?

In an article published in Hong Kong Economic Journal on 21 March 2018, Professor Alfred CHAN Cheung-ming, Chairperson of the EOC took issue with exaggerated and derogatory portraits of persons inflicted with mental illnesses in the local media, from click-bait headlines such as “Watch out! Mad men on the loose” (小心,癲人出沒) to reports that magnify the gory details of a murder case. Not only do they draw an ungrounded link between violence and mental illness, they also instigate unnecessary panic and reinforce ingrained prejudices. The result is a continued misunderstanding among the public that makes it all the more harder for persons with mental illnesses to open up, receive the support they need and reintegrate into society.

Under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance, vilification against a person with a disability – a person with mental illness, for instance – is unlawful. Although the threshold for establishing vilification is high (it is defined strictly as a public activity that incites hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule), the EOC urges members of the press to be alert to the legal risks and, better yet, incorporate perspectives of former and current patients, self-help groups and professionals into their stories and live up to its role of enlightening the public and empowering the vulnerable, instead of the other way round.