The UK Telegraph removed information from its online version of a story about a suicide after a suicide prevention group filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission, according to a recent resolution report on the PCC’s website.
The Telegraph’s Dec. 3, 2012 article reports on the 2011 suicide of a student and noted that “an inquest into his death ruled that worry about student debt had been a major contributory factor.” The article also includes quotes from the student’s mother, Anne Thorn, and information about her new “campaigning for better awareness of the pressure mounting debt is placing on young people.” At the bottom of the article, because of the PCC complaint, the article includes a note reading:
“When this article was first posted it included detail about the method of suicide. We accept that this should not have been included and have removed it. We apologise to Anne Thorn for the distress caused.”
The PCC complaint was filed by Papyrus, which is a UK “charity” dedicated to the “prevention of young suicide.” Rosemary Vaux, from Papyrus’s Press Office, told iMediaEthics that
“I can confirm that we were extremely satisfied with the way the complaint was handled by the PCC and with the resolution achieved with The Daily Telegraph.”
According to a recent Daily Mail article, Anne Thorn is a Papyrus trustee. In a follow-up email, Vaux explained that “Anne Thorn was co-opted onto the PAPYRUS Board of Trustees in February 2012 and became a Trustee of the charity in June 2012.”
“The PCC Complaint was made by Stephen Habgood, Chairman of the PAPYRUS Board of Trustees on behalf of Anne,” Vaux wrote.
The Press Complaints Commission issued a similar ruling in November when it said the weekly newspaper the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald broke its “intrusion into grief or shock” guidelines with a September story on a suicide death’s “inquest hearing” that “included details of the type of gas involved, the manner in which it had been inhaled and the state in which he had been discovered.”
And last spring, the PCC ruled against a UK Sun column that called for people who commit suicide near the trains “selfish” and recommended officials “pick up the big bits of what’s left of the victim, get the train moving as quickly as possible.” In that case, the PCC “agreed to training in reporting suicide sensitively,” the PCC’s report read.
iMediaEthics asked the PCC why last year’s complaint prompted training for Sun reporters, whereas other, similar complaints haven’t. The PCC’s Catherine Speller explained:
“Every complaint to the PCC is considered on its merits, based on the individual circumstances involved. The agreement by The Sun to training to be run by Samaritans was negotiated in response to that particular complaint, but may not have been appropriate in other circumstances.
“The PCC itself runs a continuing programme of newsroom training, which forms part of its commitment to raise standards across the newspaper and magazine industry; cases involving the reporting of suicide are regularly discussed during these sessions.”
In 2006, the PCC issued “new press reporting rules designed to help prevent copycat suicides” dictating that:
“5i: In cases involving grief or shock, enquiries must be carried out and approaches made with sympathy and discretion. Publication must be handled sensitively at such times, but this should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report judicial proceedings.
*5ii: When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used.”
UPDATE: 2/21/2013 9:14 AM EST: Fixed timestamp. This story was first published Feb. 20 at 10:45 PM EST.