The UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation released new guidance this month for sensitively and ethically reporting on suicide. Suicide, IPSO said, is “the leading cause of death in people under the age of 35 in the UK.”
IPSO noted that “the fact of someone’s death is not private,” and reporting on suicide is in the public interest. “In reporting an inquest, a journalist may clear up any rumours or suspicion about the death,” IPSO explained [an inquest is an investigation into the death]. “They may also draw attention to circumstances which may lead to further deaths or injuries if no preventative action is taken.”
That said, journalists must be careful to “limit the risk of vulnerable people being influenced by coverage of suicide,” and be able to “justify the inclusion of any detail of the method of suicide.” For example, journalists are warned against including any “excessive detail,” such as, how the death occurred.
Journalists should also avoid labeling a reason for why someone died by suicide.
Further, IPSO reminded journalists to be sensitive in reporting, interviewing and selecting pictures to accompany stories. That includes a sensitive use of language in news stories, as well. “Journalists should also consider the language that they use to describe the person who has died, or the manner in which the person died,” IPSO wrote. Journalists also shouldn’t use the phrase “committed suicide” or language that may “romanticise suicidal behavior.”
IPSO listed three areas for journalists to review before publication:
“Identify any information within the article about the method of suicide which needs to be assessed against the Code.
“Analyse whether the details you plan to include are excessive, taking into account the context in which the suicide took place – what is the rationale for publishing this information
“Consider how the information will be published (particularly if publishing online).”
IPSO also advised journalists to include information for how people can get help, such as the contact information for a suicide prevention organization.