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(Credit: ReportingonSuicide.org, screenshot)

The Globe and Mail’s public editor Sylvia Stead defended the Canadian newspaper’s coverage of teenager Amanda Todd’s death as “sensitive and complete.”

Stead noted that the newspaper “generally” won’t “report on suicides unless there is true news value to it,” but it reported on Todd’s suicide because she had posted a “courageous YouTube video describing how she was cyber-bullied to the point of suicide attempts.” As ABC News reported, Todd “posted the video called ‘My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm’ on Sept. 7 and was found dead in her home …just over a month later.”

Stead described the Globe and Mail’s coverage as not just reporting on Todd “but also on the two issues of bullying and mental health concerns.”  She also pointed to “Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide,” which were created by “leading experts in suicide prevention and in collaboration with several international suicide prevention and public health organizations, schools of journalism, media organizations and key journalists as well as Internet safety experts.”

That guidance recommends journalists “Refer to research findings that mental disorders and/or substance abuse have been found in 90% of people who have died by suicide” and that journalists “avoid reporting that death by suicide was preceded by a single event.”  The recommendations also include “suggestions for online media, message boards, bloggers & citizen journalists.”  For example,

  • Include “posts or links to treatment services, warning signs and suicide hotlines” and “stories of hope and recovery”
  • “Social networking sites…should be monitored for hurtful comments.”

The “Reporting on Suicide” recommendations also advise against featuring “big or sensationalistic headlines,” “photos/videos of the location or method of death, grieving family, friends, memorials or funerals,” or interviews with “police or first responders about the causes of suicide.”  Also, journalists are advised to not report on contents of “suicide notes,” or on  “suicide similar to reporting on crimes.”

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Suicide Reporting Guidelines for Journalists May be Changed

iMediaEthics has written often about standards in reporting on suicide.  Earlier this month, iMediaEthics reported on the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s criticism of the Oriental Daily News’ report and photo of a child who died by suicide.  The association called out the Daily News for showing the child, despite it not being in the “significant public interest,” and the Daily News’ including in its report that the child was “suspected to have been scolded by his father.”

Last month, Fox News apologized for airing live footage of a man’s suicide.  Also in September, the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma held a workshop on “Covering Suicide.”  In June, Pakistan’s Press Council chairman, Shafqat Abbasi, recommended the country’s journalists avoid sensationalizing suicide reports.

In the spring, UK Sun reporters were to be trained on “reporting suicide sensitively” after a complaint to the UK Press Complaints Commission.  In May, iMediaEthics reported about the Ottawa Suicide Prevention Coalition’s sending out copies of its guidelines for reporting on suicide.

Last year, the Austalian Press Council released new guidelines for reporting on suicide.  And, we wrote about Kansas City, Missouri TV news station WDAF-4, which had to navigate reporting on its own meteorologist’s suicide.

Also last year, New  Zealand group CASPER called for New Zealand’s suicide reporting guidelines to be amended.

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Globe & Mail ‘Sensitive & Complete’ in Reporting on Amanda Todd’s Death, Public Editor Says

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