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Reckless media

Today’s SCMP on how the Hong Kong media reports suicides:

Reckless media reports encourage suicides, say experts at HKU centre

Experts from HKU centre say irresponsible reporting may trigger epidemic of people taking their lives and put pressure on families

Jennifer Ngo | South China Morning Post | Sunday, 08 September, 2013

Irresponsible media reporting of suicides encourages copycats and may even trigger an epidemic, warn experts from the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention.  It also caused additional hurt and put pressure on victims' families, a seminar heard yesterday. [..]

The centre yesterday released a guideline for media, developed with the Hong Kong Press Council, on how to report suicide cases ethically and avoid becoming a catalyst for copycat suicides.

Apple Daily is probably the worst offender, but the South China Morning Post (which presumably likes to think of itself as a respectable newspaper) is also guilty of reporting suicides in an irresponsible way, with information that can only have come from the police and speculation about why the individual chose to take their own life.  

Surprisingly, The Standard seems to be more responsible than the SCMP, managing at least to keep its reports more factual. 

I have been told that the reporting of suicides has improved compared to a few years ago, but it still falls a long way short of the guidelines that have been adopted by most British newspapers.  The story does not state whether any newspaper has committed to follow these new guidelines. 

Guidelines for Reporting Suicides

Reporting Approach

1. Editing

  • A suicide incident should not be placed on the front page of a newspaper or a media website unless it is in the public interest or is of grave public concern.
  • Avoid using a large headline when reporting a suicide incident.
  • Media websites should avoid cross-references with other suicide incidents reported on the website. Cross-references should instead be made to websites providing mental health services.
  • Avoid reporting past suicide incidents repeatedly.
  • Extra care should be taken when handling suicide incidents that involve notable persons, as their behavior is likely to be replicated because many view them as heroes or role models.

2. News Content

  • Avoid a detailed description of the suicide method or process.
  • Avoid using an emotional or glorifying tone to describe the suicidal behavior.
  • Avoid describing suicide as a solution.
  • Avoid presuming the reason for the suicidal behavior or simplifying the reason behind the suicide.

3. Use of Photographs

  • Avoid printing sanguinary, violent, revolting and/or pornographic photos.
  • Handle photos of the suicide victim or the suicide scene with care, and pixelate or blur the picture when appropriate.
  • Do not use made-up conversation or plots to describe the suicide process, consequences of or reason for the suicide.
  • Avoid using computer graphics or animation to describe the process, consequences of or reason for the suicide.
  • Avoid enlarging photos of suicides or suicide attempts, such as photos depicting a person jumping off a building.

Appreciation of Privacy

  • Respect the victim’s family privacy to avoid adding to their pain and sorrow.
  • Consideration should be given to the victim’s friends and family. Avoid the over reporting of a suicide incident, as it might affect their emotional recovery.

Education and Prevention

  • Consider including the signs of suicidal behavior in news reports to alertpeople who could offer help to people at risk of suicide.
  • Provide solutions and ways to seek help whenever possible in news reports,such as through comments and opinions from psychologists, social workers and teachers.
  • Provide information on and contact details for mental health and counseling services in news report to assist and support at risk people and their families.

It’s hard to believe that Apple Daily would sign up for this, but surely the South China Morning Post could do so.

Comments

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PCC

This is an excellent post. Thank you.

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