IPSO Blog: Supporting journalists to report suicide responsibly

After the death yesterday of designer Kate Spade, we have received many comments and questions about the reporting of suicide.

Reporting of suicide presents a real challenge for journalists, who have to balance reporting on a sensitive issue that is in the public interest, while managing the associated risk of inadvertently encouraging imitational behaviour by those who may be vulnerable.

The Editors’ Code of Practice, the set of rules that publications that are members of IPSO must follow, includes a clause relating to the reporting of suicide and explicitly identifies the risk of ‘simulative acts’.

The Code says that journalists should take particular care when reporting on suicide to ensure that they do not provide excessive detail of the method used, which might result in simulative acts.

Sometimes there may be specific justification for including detail about the method, for example because it is central to the proceedings at an inquest, but in those instances this detail may not be “excessive”.

Part of IPSO’s regulatory role is to consider complaints under the Editors’ Code, but we also have a broader role to promote and uphold high standards in journalism.

One of the ways in which we can do this is by connecting journalists and editors with different expertise, knowledge and groups, particularly around sensitive and difficult topics which can be challenging to report on.

This year, we are working with Samaritans to help journalists to report on suicide in regular blogs and podcasts, which will cover in more detail the research around the reporting of suicide and key points for editors and journalists to consider.

Samaritans have also blogged for us about their media advisory service which promotes sensitive and appropriate reporting of suicide and provide practical recommendations for journalists. Their guidelines and supplementary factsheets can be found on their website.

We offer information, training and guidance to help journalists to cover this important topic without putting the vulnerable at risk, including guidance on reporting deaths and inquests. We also offer information for the public on reporting deaths and will be publishing more guidance, specifically on the reporting of suicide, later this year.

There is a definite public interest in the reporting of suicide. Responsible reporting can improve public understanding of the issue and encourage vulnerable 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 – including in the media.

IPSO can help journalists to cover this important topic without putting vulnerable people at risk.

Samaritans’ is helpline 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.