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Disabled Shocker!

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Seahorse | 12:39 UK time, Thursday, 22 May 2008

I sometimes forget exactly why I stopped buying newspapers. Then stories like this remind me.

Since when has it been shameful to be disabled? The Sun's take on the careless misplacing of medical records in the latest courier farce seems to suggest as much. 'Intimate details' about drinking habits, sexually transmitted diseases and (gasp!) disabilities are included in the lost files that somehow never made it from London to the Isle of Wight. Records of more than 38,000 patients were sent to a firm that checks software. The software, transported by City Link, never made it back.

Oh no! Fraud! Scandal! Blackmail! Now somebody out there is going to know that Mr N.E. One has Multiple Sclerosis. Oooh how about that, eh? Or perhaps the 'wrong hands' will be more interested in a Ms A. Binger, who spilled her guts during a recent casualty trip where doctors recorded her consumption of "a few ales" before pumping her stomach. And as for Mr N.E Thing, well, would you be that surprised that he caught something nasty with a history like that? But do we actually care? Loss of data is unfortunate and has implications for those paranoid about ID theft. Loss of medical records is particularly unfortunate, especially when your health centre doesn't notice for two months - as The Telegraph reports. But back at The Sun, what really got me was how the 'personal detail' of disability was somehow on a par with alcohol consumption and STDs. Something to definitely keep quiet about, oh yes. Ssssh.

Perhaps more disturbing is the surprise with which the same newspaper (I was in a café, the sort where The Sun lies around and gathers egg butty stains throughout the day) reported an incident of burglary.

No ordinary burglary, mind. A burglary committed, wait for it, by a man in a WHEELCHAIR! Their capitals, not mine.

Are all people who use wheelchairs saintly innocents? No. So what's the big deal here? That a man in a wheelchair could steal from his neighbour? Or that the sheer feat of stealing is now achievable from a wheelchair? Will wonders never cease?

It turns out the person in question was hard up and desperate because his benefits had been reduced. Oh, well if he was a poor disabled person that's okay then. Not!

It is not okay to steal, but it is equally not okay to brand someone a Wheeler Stealer like they are some sort of side show to the main news of the day. Which consisted largely of Jude Law snogging Rod Stewart's daughter in an Essex nightclub. Oh, and a postman who has been posted on YouTube drunk on duty. 'Your Round!' was the headline they were looking for I think.

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  • Comment number 1.

    What do you expect from The Sun?

  • Comment number 2.

    Fair point. Like I say, I was in a cafe and it was lying around. I promise you Chris, I would never, ever buy it! But I don't see the harm in writing about what I read. Maybe as I choose not to read papers these days it was more shocking. But personal reactions aside, I think these stories still need highlighting. And I take great pleasure in doing so.

  • Comment number 3.

    to be honest, while disability might look strange written in the same sentence as alcoholism and STDs, it *is* personal medical information in this instance, so for the purposes of that article it fits.

    disability isn't a matter of shame for a lot of people but most of the time they can decide whether those details are floating around in public or not.

    i'm not in any way shape or form endorsing the sun but i think you missed the point.

  • Comment number 4.

    I don't think I missed the point at all as I'm writing about how The Sun reported the story. I think there is a vast difference between their version and the Telegraph's (both linked to above) and indeed the BBC news story I also looked at online before posting.
    It's about sensationalism and categorising. There was actually no need at all to define the type of information held in medical records to reinforce the message of the story, which is that 38,000 files have been mislaid. Neither The Telegraph or the BBC used what I see as unfortunate comparisons between types of personal information. And yet they both got across the seriousness of medical records going missing. I totally agree that it's sensitive information. That is a given. It's just that the people (I hesitate to use the word journalists) writing for The Sun seem to think their readers need the content of health files explaining to them. Hence the totally redundant description of 'intimate details' plucked from thin air by the author of the story, or their news editor...and the reference to drinking habits, sexual diseases and disabilities. All for that extra shock factor.

  • Comment number 5.

    Agreed, MsSeahorse. And I wasn't aiming the sarcasm in my first comment directly at you. It was more a rhetorical statement that I was trying to put across. We should report these incidences more often - then we could combat any charge of "special pleading" that they may attract from the publications concerned.

  • Comment number 6.

    Chris, understood. I did brace myself before picking it up. But it was more thought-provoking than the cafe's menu. Just not for the right reasons. And to think, 99 per cent of readers will have logged on to YouTube to watch a postman fall over. They will have completely missed what we're on about. Or, worse, unconsciously digested it and fed their prejudice.

  • Comment number 7.

    It's a shame we don't see or hear many positive stories about people with disabilities from the Sun. But that wouldn't be news would it?

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi terrimodo. There have been attempts in the past to launch 'positive news only' newspapers. They didn't sell, and they couldn't even sell advertising space. It's interesting to ponder the relationship between the media and the public. Who is most responsible for our appetite for doom, gloom and downright prejudice? The press and TV editors who decide on the day's agenda, or the public who lap it all up? Answers in a comment box please :-)


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