Newspaper watchdog, the Press Council has revised its guidelines for newspaper journos on reporting suicide, which is a timely reminder to radio broadcasters about the importance of sensitivity on this topic. In the past it was common practice not to report suicide under normal circumstances, because reporting seemed to spark copy-cat actions. The new approach being taken by the Press Council is that responsible reporting can help people understand how to recognize and perhaps prevent suicide. The radio industry already has guidelines for suicide reporting, which recommend that stations should “avoid depicting suicide favourably or presenting it as a means of achieving a desired result.”
The new Press Council guidelines say:
“General reporting and comment on issues relating to suicide can be of substantial public benefit. For example, it may help to improve public understanding of causes and warning signs, have a deterrent effect on people contemplating suicide, bring comfort to affected relatives or friends, or promote further public or private action to prevent suicide.”
Approximately 2,500 Australians die by suicide each year and about one in five people will experience a mental illness at some stage in their lives.
Commercial Radio’s codes of practice set out radio reporting guidelines on this issue most clearly, and the ABC and community radio also have guidelines on suicide reporting. The practical tips in the commercial guidelines are an excellent starting point for anyone tasked to cover a suicide story.
In programs about or relating to suicide, stations should avoid depicting suicide favourably or presenting it as a means of achieving a desired result.
The first guiding point says: Check that the language used does not glamorise or sensationalise suicide, or present suicide as a solution to problems.
And then offers practical advice on how this can be achieved:
It would be better to use “non-fatal” rather than “unsuccessful” when describing a suicide attempt and “increasing rates” rather than “suicide epidemic” when describing rates of suicide. Research shows that over-use of the word suicide may normalise the act.
Other tips in the codes cover:
– Avoid an approach which glamorises or sensationalises celebrity suicide.
– Exclude detailed descriptions about method of suicide.
– Avoid the use of certain derogatory terminology such as “cracked up”, “nutcase”, “psycho” and “lunatic asylum”
– Remember that people with a mental illness are not inherently violent, unable to work, weak or unable to get well.
The commercial radio codes, available at the ‘View Related Site’ link below, also have references and help line numbers listed.