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Editors issue new guidelines on reporting suicide

The Editors’ Code of Practice Committee has announced today that a new sub-clause will go into the Code to address copycat suicide.

The committee reviews the voluntary code of standards which are overseen by the Press Complaints Commission.

The new sub-clause to Clause 5: Intrusion into Grief and Shock provisions, now reads:-

  • 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 reporting judicial proceedings.
  • *5ii: When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used. (The asterisk indicates that under the new sub-clause exceptions can be made if editors demonstrate that it was written in the public interest).

    Editors Code Committee chairman Les Hinton, executive chairman of News International said: “During our annual review, we received convincing evidence from Samaritans and others, that media reporting of suicide often prompted copycat cases. It is an international phenomenon.

    “We have attempted to minimise that risk – while maintaining the public’s right to know – by emphasising the need for care to avoid excessive detail, unless it’s in the wider public interest to give the information.”

    The Samaritans has welcomed the announcement of the new guideline for reporters.

    Chief executive with Samaritans David King said today: “This is really significant news from the Editors Committee. We have been working well with the media for many years and for the Committee to put something into the PCC Code, which we know is what reporters work to every day, is a great step forward.

    “It should mean we’ll see more informative reporting of suicide as an issue, and far less about methods and the sensational aspects which don’t help and at times can genuinely be harmful.”

    He had previously sent the PCC a detailed ten-page submission highlighting recent media stories, which Samaritans claimed could lead to copycat suicides.

    The document quoted research into factual and fictional media coverage of suicide – and its impact on the methods and rates of suicide.

    The Press Complaints Commission has ratified the change which will take effect from August 7.

    To ensure maximum awareness, the Society of Editors will print and send out 30,000 copies of the new Code to UK journalists, politicians and leaders of civil society.

    Much of the research referred to can be found within Samaritans own media guidelines, which can be found at:

  • Adrian Faber, editor of the Express and Star in Wolverhampton, and David Pollington, editor of The Sunday Post in Scotland, have been appointed to the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee. They replace Perry Austin-Clarke from the Bradford Telegraph and Argus who stood down last year and Derek Tucker from the Press and Journal, Aberdeen, who has joined the PCC as a Commissioner.