As iMediaEthics wrote last week, New Zealand’s guidelines for media reporting on suicides may change soon. The guidelines are considered very strict, but then New Zealand does have one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the world.
CASPER, a group that represents about 500 families of suicide victims, advocates changes to the guidelines. The group’s Maria Bradshaw responded to iMediaEthics’ e-mail inquiry and included CASPER’s reasoning for backing changes to the guidelines.
She explained that CASPER was told by associate health minister Peter Dunne that “he ‘may’ involve us in some way in the process of reviewing the guidelines on media reporting of suicide ‘at some point in the future.’ We suspect this means that if we’re lucky we may get to comment on a fait accompli (or may not!) and will most likely be ignored whatever we say. We find it unacceptable to be consulted after the draft guidelines have been developed and where such consultation is unlikely to be a genuine opportunity to influence policy.”
According to CASPER, at least 10 people commit suicide each week in New Zealand.
Bradshaw commented that “current guidelines and legislation impact most directly on families affected by suicide rather than on the media,” something which she said Dunne “appears ignorant of.”
“He appears uninformed on the harm this causes to those families, as well as to the broader community, where suicide is shrouded in silence and families are criminalised for talking about the deaths of their loved ones,” Bradshaw wrote, noting that CASPER thinks “New Zealand’s current approach to suicide prevention actually increases rather than decreases suicide.”
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CASPER’s suggestions cited much research on suicides, including that “the news industry does not accept research linking reported suicides and copycat deaths is conclusive.”
Another reason CASPER supports reporting on suicides includes that “in many cases, young people while having easy access to information about suicide methods do not have information about the impact of their actions. Many young people have said that having witnessed the destruction of the lives of the parents of friends who have suicided is the primary deterrent to their own suicide. The reality that suicide is final and irrevocable is best communicated through the stories of those who have died.”
And, as CASPER sees it, the media’s reporting on “rapes, murders, burglaries, fraud, etc” could also theoretically lead to copycat behavior, but New Zealand doesn’t have “blanket restrictions” for reporting on those types of events.
CASPER stated that it backs Irish media guidelines on suicides. Those guidelines, from the Irish Association of Suicidology and the Samaritans, advise “talking about suicide in a controlled, supportive, educational and informative way will not lead to its normalization or encourage people to think of taking their own lives. To ignore it or hide the situation – even for honourable motives- is stigmatizing and damaging.”
But, CASPER does suggest there should be restrictions on suicide reporting. “We consider that New Zealand (and other countries) should adopt the Australian approach to regulating internet sites which incite people to suicide and provide detailed information on how to complete suicide.”