Language Used for Reporting Suicide

After journalists decide to run a suicide story, the use of language is the second thing they need to care about. Studies showed that an extensive coverage may ignite ‘copycat behaviour’. Therefore, journalists should be aware of the language used in the story.

According to the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide, the report should not explicitly describe the suicide method and uses dramatic headlines or images. Also, the report should not extensively cover sensationalises or glamorises a death. Because if the journalist failed to do the above things, risks of copycat behaviour may be higher. The recommendations also suggested journalists not to publish photos of the location or method of death, grieving family, friends, memorials or funerals. Journalists should include the school, work or family photo of the person committed suicide. The report should also include hotline logo or local crisis phone numbers. Journalists should not interview police or first responders about the causes of suicide too. Instead, they should seek advice from suicide prevention experts.

From the Media guidelines for the reporting of suicide of the Samaritans, it reminded journalists not to be over-simplification. Over-simplification of the causes or perceived ‘triggers’ for a suicide can be misleading and is unlikely to reflect accurately the complexity of suicide. Also, if possible, journalists should include references to suicide being preventable, and to sources of support such as Samaritans in the story.

The researchers from Hong Kong (Cheng, Hawton, Lee, Chen 2007) showed that the extensive media reporting of the celebrity suicide was followed by an increase in suicides with a strong implication of a modelling effect. A famous Hong Kong pop singer whose death from suicide by jumping from a height occurred on 1st April 2003 and resulted in extensive and often dramatic media coverage. The researchers compare the numbers of suicides before and after the death of the celebrity and discovered that the number of jumping increased. Therefore, journalists should avoid extensive coverage on suicide.

 

References:

Cheng, Hawton, Lee, Chen 2007, The effects of a celebrity suicide on suicide rates in Hong Kong, Journal of Affective Disorders 93(1-3), P 245-52.

Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide, reporting on suiceid.org

BEST PRACTICE SUICIDE REPORTING TIPS, Samaritans

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