The College encourages psychiatrists to provide the media with expert and up-to-date information. The External Affairs Department retains a list of experts who are happy to deal with media inquiries.
Certain precautions need to be taken, especially when there is great pressure by the media for psychiatric opinions about individuals whose behaviour — often criminal or violent — has caused public concern. In these situations, it is essential that psychiatrists should (a) understand that they are absolutely entitled to make no comment; and (b) confine themselves to general statements about the behaviour or illness under discussion for the purpose of public education but avoid opinions about individuals. Psychiatrists should be particularly careful when the reporter is not known to them, or works for a tabloid known for sensational reporting — where the ‘reporting’ is often the sub-editing of the reporter's original material.
The American Psychiatric Association has issued ethical guidelines in this matter, as follows:
‘On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention, or who has disclosed information about him/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his/her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he/she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorisation for such a statement.’American Psychiatric Association, 2001; p. 11.
The College agrees with this principle. Speculation about persons a psychiatrist has never met could be damaging, both to the professional and to the profession as a whole.
The External Affairs Department is always willing to advise psychiatrists in their dealings with the media.