Fear of 'copycat' suicides sparks NUJ guide relaunch

By Hamish Mackay

The NUJ in Scotland and the Scottish Executive are to jointly
relaunch guidelines on the reporting of suicide in the media following
concerns over recent coverage of deaths north of the border.

The initiative follows the suicide of two teenagers in separate
incidents in Livingston – the town where schoolboy Rory Blackhall was
murdered recently.

Campaigners have pointed out that the
reporting of the deaths of the two teenagers in certain sections of the
Scottish print and broadcast media had seen every element of the
guidelines “breached”.

An amended version of the previous NUJ
guidelines is now being issued to try and guard against “copycat”
suicidal behaviour which can arise as a result of insensitive or
over-sensationalised reporting.

In the cases involving the two
Livingston teenagers, detailed descriptions of how they died were
provided by some newspapers. Photographs of the playground apparatus
where one boy died were on the front page of several publications.

And
in another case one newspaper carried the address of a suicide website
which a teenage Scottish girl used to help end her life.

Ron
Ellis, service co-ordinator with helpline Breathing Space Scotland,
said: “The NUJ guidelines have definitelybeen breached in the sense of
relating one suicide to another. They (the media) have created a link
and it is wrong to do that.

“When you get one suicide there’s a trigger effect – you always get two or three. It’s a syndrome. It validates it. One person leads the way and others follow.

“To
be fair, the media are not wholly to blame, but they have linked the
suicides and given greater coverage.”Edinburgh freelance journalist
Claire Walker is the author of the NUJ guidelines on mental health and
suicides, published last year with the support of the Scottish
Executive.

She told Press Gazette: “Research suggests that the
manner in which the print and broadcast media handle a story about
suicide can influence the likelihood of copycat suicides taking place.

“Journalists
carry a heavy burden here. And the importance of getting it right is
paramount. No journalist wants to feel responsible, in however small a
part, for further death.”

The NUJ guidelines suggest several
factors to take into account, including not describing the method of
suicide – and drugs and dosages used.

Pictures of the death site
are also discouraged, and journalists are warned that publishing the
details of suicide websites and chatrooms is “distinctly dangerous”.

Explained
Walker: “NUJ Scotland is not trying to hector or lecture journalists,
nor is it trying to be politically correct. It is trying to raise awareness of the weight that language can carry.

“Rather
than publishing details of suicide chatrooms, it would be infinitely
more helpful to add at the end of the piece, details of where to find
help, like Breathing Space, ChildLine and the Samaritans.”

The NUJ guidelines can be accessed on www.wellontheweb.net.

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