Today IPSO launched guidance for journalists on the responsible reporting of suicide, the culmination of a year-long project looking at reporting in this area.
There is a public interest in the reporting of suicide as it remains a significant public health concern – it is the leading cause of death in people under the age of 35 in the UK. The death of an individual is a matter of public record and a death may affect a community as well as those who knew the individual personally. Journalists have a basic right to report the fact of a person’s death, even if surviving family members would prefer for there to be no reporting and regard the death as private.
But, a wide body of research evidence shows that media portrayals of suicide, including information published by newspapers and magazines, can influence suicidal behaviour and lead to imitative acts, particularly among vulnerable groups or young people. The research shows that overly detailed reporting does not just influence the choice of method of a suicide, but can lead to additional deaths which would otherwise not have occurred.
The way in which the UK media has reported suicide has changed fundamentally over the years – in part due to charities working in the area of suicide prevention, like Samaritans, but also due to a real recognition amongst journalists of the impact of poor quality reporting on vulnerable individuals.
In 2006, the Editors' Code Committee amended the then Clause 5 of the Editors’ Code to cover the reporting of suicide. It was changed to make clear that, when reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used. This was extended further in 2016 when the reporting of suicide became the subject of a stand-alone clause and the risk of ‘simulative acts’ was explicitly added, exemplifying how seriously the UK press industry takes the issue.
Journalists must not publish excessive detail of a method of suicide, to limit the possibility of simulative acts. In cases involving suicide, journalists are required to make difficult judgements as to which of the details, heard during the course of inquest proceedings, they will publish. It is not possible to quantify from the research the level of risk posed by individual details, so editors must make a judgement about what is excessive in a particular context.
To help editors and journalists to answer these questions, IPSO has produced guidance on the reporting of suicide. IPSO now also incorporates the reporting of suicide into the training that it offers to regulated newspapers and magazines. We also have a series of joint blogs with Samaritans and have recently released a podcast on this topic.
There is a definite public interest in the reporting of suicide. Journalists must carefully consider the amount of detail that they report when talking about suicide. But reporting can encourage people to seek help and to speak about suicidal feelings. Ultimately, we can only reduce the numbers of suicides each year if we continue to talk about the issue.
Samaritans are available round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, whatever you are going through. It’s free to call them on 116 123 and you don't have to be suicidal to call them.