Hard News by Russell Brown

68

Two very different topics

Just a quick note to say that there are two main topics on Media7 this week, and you're invited both to attend the recording tomorrow and contribute your thoughts here.

The first is a perennially tricky one: the media and suicide. How should suicide be reported? What language should be used? Are there circumstances where it shouldn’t be reported at all?

We'll have a panel comprised of Merryn Stratham of Suicide Prevention New Zealand, AUT lecturer and psychotherapist Nettie Cullen, and Clive Lind from Fairfax Media, which developed its own protocols for the reporting of suicide after an attempt to get an industry-wide code of practice failed. (Their original document manages to make 362 words weigh nearly half a megabyte, so I've just pasted in the text below this post.)

The other topic is the $1.8 million Big Little City Auckland tourism campaign, which was lashed by Ana Samways on Spare Room as "pretentious" and unrepresentative of the city. We'll have Ana on the panel, along with Alex Swney, CEO of Heart of the City, which is behind the campaign, and young-man-about-town Alastair Kwun.

If you'd like to join us tomorrow at The Classic in Queen Street, just hit Reply and let me know. We're back on evening records, so we'd need you there before 5.30pm. Otherwise, just fire away.

Now here's that Fairfax document …

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Protocols for the Reporting of Suicide in New Zealand

Preamble

Reporting suicide requires journalists to exercise fine editorial judgement within the framework of statutory constraints imposed by the Coroners Act 2006.

The media have a recognised duty to inform the public on matters of public interest. Suicide is an issue of legitimate concern to the public and the media can perform an important role in informing and educating the public about this complex issue. Stories can address likely causes; warning signs; trends in suicide rates; recent advances in treatment; and suicide prevention strategies.

Individual suicides may be inherently newsworthy and need to be reported. In such cases, a responsible approach will consider the potential for news coverage to both contribute to cause further harm and to communicate positive messages that may save lives.

Editors, editors-in-chief and editorial leaders of Fairfax Media publications, who are aware of the ongoing debate about, and research into, links between media reporting and suicide rates, accept the need to:

• Report suicide in a straightforward manner by providing concise and factual information that increases public awareness of risk factors, warning signs and possible actions to help a suicidal person.

• Avoid simplistic explanations for suicide which usually results from a complex set of circumstances and is seldom the result of a single event. When appropriate, risk factors associated with suicide such as mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse or others should be explored by journalists.

• Avoid presenting suicide as a method of coping with personal problems.

• Avoid focusing only on the deceased person’s positive characteristics.

• Avoid language, images or presentation that glorifies, trivialises or romanticises suicide or persons who commit suicide particularly in media which target or are likely to be available to young people.

• Avoid unnecessary reference to details of method or place of suicide.

• Avoid speculation especially surrounding celebrities.

• Take into account the impact of suicide on families and other survivors and follow media codes of practice on privacy, grief and trauma.

• Where appropriate, include community resources available for those at-risk such as help-lines and counselling services.

• Consult reputable sources when seeking comment on suicide.

January 2007

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