Big sums in headlines come at a cost: accuracy

When a big financial award is made by the courts as compensation for injury due to negligence, why are the headlines always about the amount awarded?

December 19, 2019

December 6, 2019

Note the wording in the second headline above: the boy has “secured” the money; he is positioned as the active party; the tone of the headline suggests that he pursued the money, that the motivation was financial gain.

Rather, the awardees in these types of cases are the passive party. By that I mean that they are the ones to whom something was done, they suffered at someone else’s hand; they are the victims.

To highlight the amount awarded creates the impression that these cases are all about the money, when in fact we know that award payments are used to pay for medical care and other care the person may need – in many cases, for the rest of their lives.

November 5, 2019

What’s more, by focusing on amounts, the wording of these headlines paints a picture of the complainants as grasping, greedy even. It creates an implicit link between these cases and the Irish phenomenon of ‘compo culture’, when in fact, the two are not connected.

The term ‘compo culture’ refers to a practise of false, vexatious claims (often insurance claims) intended to illegally enrich the claimant. The cases I’m talking about in this post are anything but false or vexatious.

The only vexatious thing about them is that the complainant, who has already been wronged, usually has to fight their way through the courts to get justice. (This article quotes a victim’s father: “Unfortunately, it took 6 years, and a court case, for the HSE to admit liability.”)

Editors in the news media know what they are doing here. They know that large sums of money in headlines catch the eye. In these days of fleeting attention spans and countless competing sources of news, there is pressure to create attention-grabbing headlines.

But let’s keep out of it kids who will need 24-hour care for the rest of their lives, or parents bereaved due to a mismanaged birth. Let’s shift the focus to the real wrongdoers: “HSE pays bill for doctor’s medical negligence”. “Child’s family compensated for botched birth.”

It’s not hard to write catchy headlines that tell the truth.


Posted on December 19, 2019, in Writing. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Big sums in headlines come at a cost: accuracy.

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