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Ottawa Suicide Prevention Coalition has been sending guidelines for covering suicide to reporters.(Credit: Ottawa Suicide Prevention Coalition)

J-Source, the Canadian Journalism Project, questioned recently “Has there been a shift in the way suicide is reported?”  According to J-Source, media outlets have stopped shying away from reporting on suicides and treating suicides as less of a taboo topic.

However in contrast with that claim, J-Source cited the media guidelines provided by the Ottawa Suicide Prevention Coalition.

The guidelines, which are brief, advise against “making generalizations” or “romanticizing the suicide” and call for news outlets to exclude how the person committed suicide.  The guidelines call for journalists to not run “photos of the deceased” but instead publish “generic pictures such as a family, a community, a school.”

The guidelines also advise on specific wording. For example, the guidelines say:

  • “Use words like ‘a rise in’ or ‘higher’ to describe an increase in suicide rate” and
  • “Use the words ‘died by suicide’ not ‘committed suicide’”
  • But don’t call it a “successful” suicide or “failed attempt” at suicide.

J-Source called for more “open” guidelines toward reporting on suicide to promote the publication of information that may help raise awareness.

Specifically concerning the Ottawa Suicide Prevention Coalition guidelines, J-Source wrote:

“That said, being told how to report suicides doesn’t sit right – I admire what the OSPC is doing, and I know its aims are good, but I don’t like being told how to ‘spin’ the message.”

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The Otttawa Suicide Prevention Coalition’s Renee Ouimet told iMediaEthics by e-mail that the group has “been working on this for over a year” and that the media guidelines “are taken mostly from the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.”  (See here that group’s media guidelines, which include “printing story on inside page” and “below the fold.”)

The Ottawa Suicide Prevention Coalition released its guidelines February 8 and has “sent over 600 copies to newspaper, radio and TV journalists in the Ottawa region,” she explained.

The group’s purpose in issuing the guidelines, Ouimet wrote to iMediaEthics is to make Ottaway “a suicide safer community” and to encourage “the media to talk about suicide openly but safely.”

In April, we wrote about new training on reporting on suicide for UK Sun journalists after complaints that a Sun column was insensitive.

In October 2011, Toronto Star public editor Kathy English argued that “We need to talk about suicide” because suicide has been typically treated as “shameful.”

And, see here and here our stories on suicide reporting in New Zealand.

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Ottawa Suicide Prevention Coalition Contacting Media Outlets to Advise How to Report on Suicide

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