Recommendations on Suicide Reporting & Online Information Dissemination for Media Professionals (published July 2015)

RecommendationsSuicideReport-en

Published July 2015

In an effort to support and promote appropriate media coverage on suicide, the CSPR published the “Suicide and the Media: Recommendations on Suicide Reporting for Media Professionals” in 2004. Since then, the Centre has worked closely with the Hong Kong media to collect feedback on the use of this handbook; and this regular working relationship has evolved steadily in the past decade into a solid partnership with the shared mission to promote better societal well-being in Hong Kong. After a decade, the CSRP is releasing a revised and updated version of the handbook. This new version reflects not only the feedback collected through many conversations and focus-groups with media professionals on the 2004 version, but also their suggestions on how media could better support suicide prevention. Additionally, the CSRP has also systematically reviewed media guidelines from other countries on reporting news of suicides including those published online, and has added elements from the review in the handbook as appropriate. The CSRP is confident that this updated version will better meet the needs of media professionals when they encounter news or information involving suicides, and guide them in representing such content appropriately through both traditional and online media.

The Principles for Reporting on Suicide

  1. Protect privacy and consider the risks borne by vulnerable individuals
  2. Take the opportunity to educate the public about mental health and suicide prevention
  3. Practice self-care in the community of media professionals

*Media professionals are encouraged to include contact information of social services when reporting on suicides and self-harm.

 

Case Review

案例:學生自殺新聞報導

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刋登日期: 二零一六年三月十日
讚賞之處:
  • 在接連發生學生自殺的情況下,該報章並未於頭版刊發個案報導。個案報導被放置於A4版下方,且沒有刊登相片。既報導了事實,又避免了渲染個案。
  • 頭版導讀設置為關於學生生活狀態的議題,報章內文A3、A4設多篇報導,引導公眾關注青少年身心健康的深層次問題。
  • 報章內文A4版以「如何辨識有自殺傾向學童」、如何提供生命教育為主,個案報導為輔,不單加上求助熱線,更加上其他輔導(包括死者所屬學校)的聯繫方法,有助讀者尋求幫助。
可以再做多一點:
  • 新聞內容可避免刊登死者的全名及個人資料,以免對家屬造成困擾。
  • 個案新聞的標題應避免簡化死因(例如『疑學業問題感不快』)。

Case 1: Inappropriate images

Chongqing man saved by quick-acting police after posting suicide note online

Published date: 12 March, 2013
Merits: None
Suggestions: Avoid publishing disturbing photos like the one above.It would be better not to mention the person’s Weibo account so that this person’s online identity would not be labelled as suicidal.

Case 2: Publishing recommendations from experts

The tragedy of suicide: good journalism can help

Published date: 09 April, 2015
Merits: This media published an article written by an expert in suicide prevention, which can raise the public’s awareness of media’s role in suicide prevention.The website allows readers to share the article on social media.
Suggestions: Avoid publishing photos of suicide location.

Case 3: Avoid over-simplification

Two Jiangsu teens commit suicide over unfinished homework

Published date: 03 May, 2013
Merits: The article tried to raise the public’s attention to a common social problem.
Suggestions: Suicide is often caused by complicated factors.  When reporting on suicides, one should avoid over-simplifying the causes of suicide. In this case, the media should avoid fully attributing suicides to heavy homework.The media can report more about how to cope with school stress and how to form effective communications between teachers/parents and children.

Case 4: Problems of suicides in specific populations

Retirees are susceptible to negative emotions.  Professionals in sectors of health care and social work suggest more attention be directed to this population.

Published date: 24 Feb, 2015
Merits: Suicide rates among the elderly remain high in Hong Kong in recent years. This news article focused on the ways of facilitating prevention of suicides among the elderly and raised awareness on emerging social issues in this population.The coverage included interviews with professionals in the field of suicide prevention, through which warning signs of suicides and the need to pay attention to the elderly were discussed.The coverage also discussed about the distress that may be caused by hardships experienced in families with children and encouraged those in need to seek help.
Suggestions: The repetition on suicide location is undue. The image of the location of completed suicide should not have been included.  The reference of location has no merits in promoting public interest, but instead can cause unnecessary disruption in the neighbourhood.

Case 5: How to report about people bereaved by suicides?

Grade-11 student died by suicide. Father blames himself: ‘I can never care for him again.

Published date: 17 Oct, 2014
Merits: The news article talked about warning signs of suicide and encouraged readers to show care to people around them.
Suggestions: Suicide among youth is a rarity and therefore newsworthy, but extra caution should be exercised to practice responsible reporting. Contents in the article should not include identifiable information of the deceased, such as the name, his address, and where he went to school.  Identifiable photographs of the deceased should also not be included in the article.  These suggestions are grounded in the principles of protecting and respecting the privacy of the bereaved and avoid possibilities of imitative behaviours among fellow youth readers.People who have been bereaved by suicide are at heightened risk of suicide themselves.  In the featured case above, the father of the deceased was tormented by guilt.  The journalists who covered the story should have emphasized on getting the father help for grieving loss, but instead they framed the story by elaborating on the guilt factor.  This approach had no positive impact on the recovery process of the bereaved and was widely criticized. It is highly recommended that professionals in the fields of social work, mental health be consulted when reporting suicide cases. The focus of reporting should be on warning signs and coping mechanisms for loss.

Case 6: An example of positive reporting:

Young man jumped off a high-rise and suffer from permanent injury that meanss walking with a cane for life. Youth in his 20s regretted suicide attempt in hindsight and hopes to recover and embrace life again.

Published date: 26 May, 2015
Merits: This news article covered a story of a survivor of attempted suicide. It highlighted ways to maintain a positive attitude in face of difficulties arise in the process of recovery and the importance of getting help. This article served as a great example of positive reporting.  Not only was it a success story in gaining hope in situations of despair but it also encouraged the act of getting help. The story was not featured on the front page, but on A8, not on the front page.  The article also included information of charity donations that support the recovery of those who have similar experiences as the one covered in the story.
Suggestions: The article should not include a photograph that documents the suicide.  This may trigger negative emotions associated with the traumatic experience of the survivor and his family by the attempted suicide.

Case 7: What can search engines do for suicide prevention?

Google

Merits: When the term “suicide” was detected in the search box, information of local crisis helpline is showing as one of the top search result. There is also linkage to the website of the local leading organization of suicide prevention that may provide resources needed when someone is in distress. This promotes and facilitates help-seeking among those who may be using the web to plan their suicides.
Suggestions: It is recommended that related search terms should not allude to acts or methods of suicides. Instead they should reflect concepts of suicide prevention and mental health.It is also recommended that no commercial advertisement be included in the search results of suicides.

Case 8: Suicide prevention in digital media

If a friend claims that s/he wants to die, please respond with immediate action of locating the person and seek help.  Messages on social media are not to be taken lightly.

Published date: 08 Jun, 2015
Merits: The use of multimedia on the online platform brings a dynamic presence of promoting suicide prevention.Interviews with professionals provide information on detection of suicidal thoughts and behaviours and on the proper interventions when such thoughts and behaviours are present.
Suggestions: Traditional media could make reference to information available on the digital medium and provide ways of access to widen the dissemination of information.Linkages to websites of organizations of suicide prevention and mental health should be included on the page to allow wider access to resources for suicide prevention.

Case 9: Following up on a murder-suicide case

“The family of three were seen walking hand in hand the night before the tragedy.”

“School-mate of the boy in tragedy: We hope he is in a better place now.”

Published date: 16 Sept, 2015
Merits: The case included interviews with mental health professionals, who encouraged those bereaved by suicides to seek help when feeling distressed and reminded the public about paying attention to those who are emotionally affected by the case.
Suggestions: It is recommended that portrait images be avoided when reporting on suicides. If this cannot be avoided, faces in images should be blurred to protect privacy and anonymity.Families bereaved by suicides are under a tremendous amount of stress and could be vulnerable to suicidal thoughts themselves. They should be given space and time to heal. The media should avoid badgering and paying repeated visits to bereaving families as these visits can reinforce the pain they are going through.Please refer to the first principle for reporting on suicides, “Protect privacy and consider the risks borne by vulnerable individuals”, for details.