Down Syndrome families and advocacy groups are outraged that Channel 7 hospital drama All Saints insinuated the child of a fictional brother and sister involved in an incestuous relationship would likely have Down Syndrome. Apologies are now being demanded and Down Syndrome Australia is lobbying major advertisers to boycott the show. Legal action hasn’t been ruled out.

All Saints Cast

Sure, it’s probably the most idiotic storyline on Aussie TV this year, but does anyone really expect much more from commercial television, let alone Channel 7? This is the same network that claims Today Tonight deals with ‘Issues That Matter’ and that Deal or No Deal is a game show that requires skill. Television lies.

Is All Saints obligated to present only factual information or is it granted the same creative license afforded to shows like Heroes and Lost?

Did you know that stations have list of things they should and shouldn’t do when portraying people with a disabilities. It’s all in the
Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice (page 55). It even includes a handy guide to what words program producers and reporters can use. Instead of describing someone as a ‘dwarf,’ the Code suggests using ‘short‘ or ‘below average height.’ Keep reading to see that entire section:

Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice
This Advisory Note is intended to help and encourage reporters and program producers to produce programs which treat people with disabilities fairly and realistically as individuals, and as an integral part of the general community (bearing in mind that as many as 18% of the population fall within this broad category). It also suggests ways to change the emphasis from the disability itself to the individual or individuals concerned, from unduly emotional coverage to normal human empathy and interest, and from a focus on personal suffering to include the community?s response to the needs of people with disabilities. As such, it will also be of assistance to programmers, program promotion producers and program classifiers.

General Approach

  1. Try to depict people with disabilities in ways which do not stereotype them, or stigmatisethem as quite different from the community at large. Common stereotypes to avoid include: disability is a monumental tragedy, people with a disability are objects of pity or charity, if they do things like getting married and having children they are extraordinary, they lead boring, uneventful lives, and families of people with a disability are exceptionally heroic.
  2. Choose phrases and words that individuals with disabilities will not find demeaning (see below for more detailed comments on language and disability).
  3. Present people with disabilities as individuals, not just as the sum of their disabilities, nor as necessarily representative of all people with disabilities.
  4. Recognise that disabilities affect people in different ways, depending on a host of different factors. Having a disability is for many an unavoidable fact of life, not something to be dramatised.
  5. Only draw attention to a person?s disability when it is relevant.
  6. When a person with disabilities is featured in a story, the human interest angle of the individual overcoming overwhelming odds may sometimes be the appropriate one, but don?t automatically choose it.
  7. Don?t overlook the views of people with disabilities in stories dealing with general interest issues such as public transport, the environment and child care.
  8. Introduce people with disabilities by their titles and full names, if this is done for other people in the program or item.

Language and Disability
There is no universal agreement on how people with disabilities should be described but, in general, words which describe a person?s disability or medical condition tend to focus attention on the disability or condition rather than the person. The guide attached to these Notes sets out words which may give offence, and suggests alternatives which will be more acceptable.

The guide is not intended to be exhaustive, or definitive. It is advisable to check with a disability specific
organisation (and, of course, with the person being interviewed) to gain an understanding of language currently considered appropriate or inappropriate.

Commercial TV Code - Disability cut out