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Wellington forum explores safe ways to report suicide

Sep 15th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article

NO ONE is saying the media shouldn’t report suicide – just report it in a responsible way.

That’s the main message from a travelling seminar The Role of Media in Suicide Prevention, staged by Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand (SPINZ) in Auckland, Wellington and Nelson.

The majority of the Whitireia journalism students who attended the forum thought the Ministry of Health’s reporting guidelines should be followed.

“It’s a touchy subject and I’d rather trust the opinion of the people who know what they’re talking about,” says Sophie Scarf.

There are some concerns that the guidelines are not very clear, and that the New Zealand ones are, at 10 years old, out of date.
Some students think suicide a private matter, and not of sufficient public interest to be reported.

Malia Sio says the family of a suicide case are the victims, and there are no lessons for anyone else to learn from it.

Paul McBeth is concerned that censorship might go too far, especially when it is suggested that fictional portrayals might be required to adopt the guidelines.

“I came away from that conference very sceptical,” he says. “No one’s willing to engage on this complex subject intelligently.”

Facts about suicide to emerge at the forum include:

  • The number of suicides in New Zealand each year is about 500.
  • The global number is one million (although many more may not be reported).
  • Copycat suicides (linked to the media) are a serious issue, estimated at five per cent of all suicides. The proportion may be lower in New Zealand because it has the most restrictive reporting rules in the world.
  • A number of studies worldwide have shown there is a real increase in suicides after publicity of particular cases. One study found the more days a story appeared on the front page, the greater the rate of increase in suicides.
  • One suicide can lead to further suicides in a family.

Suicide rates in New Zealand are going down, according to figures supplied by the Ministry of Health.

The average rate of suicide for 2003-2005 was 13.2 deaths per 100,000 population. This is a significant decrease from the 1996-1998 peak of 16.3 deaths per 100,000 population.

Guidelines for appropriate reporting:

  • Avoid repetitive coverage.
  • Don’t glorify the act – present it as a poor choice.
  • Acknowledge the deceased person’s problems.
  • Avoid sensationalising.
  • Avoid giving specific detail.
  • Take the opportunity to educate the public.
  • Provide information about where people can get support/help (phone numbers, websites).
  • Consider the aftermath of suicide, ie the effect on family, friends.
  • Recognise the importance of role models.
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  1. […] already been dissected by fellow students Anne Cornish and Paul McBeth, and speaker at the Auckland forum Jim […]

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