There have been devastating suicide news we regretted to learn just shortly after we set foot in 2016. May we first take this opportunity to send our deepest condolence to the family of the deceased and be reminded there are community resources for those who’re in need. On the other side though, it is gratifying to see the media have changed from extensive reporting of suicide cases in the past to a simpler and more objective manner nowadays. The vast majority of these articles also contain professional advices and helplines resources. These not only reflect the changes in media professionals, it also shows the society as a whole is taking steps toward a more loving, caring, and empathetic community. All these require hard work from different stakeholders within the community, and they require even more hard work to maintain this achievement.
Comparing with Western countries, suicide news in Hong Kong are reported much more frequently. We have constantly urged local media to report suicide news responsibly, but by no means, we attempted to forbid the report of any suicide news. We are truly aware that just like any news, ones that involve with public interest should be reported by the media. We have also encouraged local media to investigate and discuss thoroughly about the impact of society in suicide incidents, subsequently raise the public awareness in suicide prevention. Nevertheless, most suicide news reported weren’t a matter of public interest, rather it became a mean to further harm the deceased and their family. It also encouraged stigmatisation towards a particular group of people (e.g. psychiatric patients) or places (e.g. estate being named as the “estate of death”). There are more and more research pointing out that suicide news may lead to copycat acts on those who are vulnerable, creating a devastating vicious cycle within the society.
Our centre introduced the WHO Suicide Media Guideline to Hong Kong media professionals in 2004. Sadly, the introduction of the media guideline was not as effective as we thought it would be. Through engagement with several media professionals, we see media professionals uphold a sense of commitment in improving the society through the media. However, due to the lack of knowledge on how news report can be a potential risk factor for suicide and the urge to chase after more “exciting” news, they sometimes negated the fact that these suicide news articles can be damaging to vulnerable individuals.
In order to tackle this problem, we started to change our strategy in approaching media professionals and work hand-in-hand with local media. Under the support from the University’s Knowledge Exchange Fund, we are able to monitor suicide news articles in a daily basis. We will contact the editors and request for amendments if we discover a problematic article that might cause harm to any individuals or public. Having said that, we emphasise that we respect and treasure the freedom of press, with no intention whatsoever to influence the independence of any media professionals. We, however, hopes to recommend and discuss on such matter solely base on humanitarian and social responsibility perspective. This healthy engagement have not only created a platform for constructive communication between media and us, the media have also responded to our concerns very positively. An even more heartening news is that some media professionals are willing to take the initiative to learn more about the latest research findings and movement on suicide preventions and actively promote suicide preventions to the public, not waiting for another tragic to strike.
All in all, we would like to express our sincere gratitude to the all media professionals and local media for their contribution in the works of suicide prevention. Through this precious chance, we hope to reiterate the three basic principles of reporting suicide news. Firstly, avoid reporting suicide news if it does not involve the public interest. Secondly, please take consideration of the mental status of high risk group when reporting suicide. Lastly, media professionals should practice self-care and pluck up their courage to seek help when needed. The media is our most precious gateway of information. We are grateful for your professionalism in delivering news to the society. A call to all medial professional: keep your empathy, and more importantly uphold your commitment in improving the society. We are confident that the media will continue to serve great contribution in suicide prevention!
This article in chinese with heading 不忘初心 傳媒可為預防自殺做出積極貢獻 was published by MingPao@A29 on 20 Jan 2016. Read by following this link.