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Police blame for media on suicides is itself "irresponsible" – editors' chief

Society of Editors director Bob Satchwell has again had to defend media coverage of suicides following the latest tragedy in Bridgend, where a 16-year-old girl was found hanged.

And he claimed press coverage was actually helping find a solution for people affected by what has happened.

He appeared on BBC Radio 5 and Radio Wales following accusations made by a police chief and the grieving parents of a suicide victim that media coverage might be the cause of the apparent suicide cluster.

Talking on Radio 5’s Drive show, he said: “First of all let me say I have huge sympathy for the parents of these tragic young people but for the police to go around blaming the media is itself irresponsible.

“I find it interesting that the authorities are finally now coming up with a plan to try to deal with this spate of suicides – I wonder if they would have done so had it not been for the press coverage.”

Asked whether he thought it was possible that the media had planted the idea of suicide in young people’s minds, he said: “The deaths did not receive significant media coverage until after there had already been an alarming number of cases, so there was clearly already a problem.

“Certainly the media should report such issues carefully, and the codes support this. But you cannot expect them to not report at all. You do not stop a problem by sweeping it under the carpet.”

The former Cambridge Evening News editor also drew attention to the fact that there had been a new code on mental health and suicide reporting published only this week.

On Radio Wales he was asked if he acknowledged that there was a distinction between responsible and irresponsible reporting.

He said: “Of course there is a line. The point I have made in previous discussions is that if people feel this line has been crossed they should bring it to the attention of the Press Complaints Commission.”

It was also suggested that complaints had been made about intrusion into grief by reporters.

He said: “Again this is the kind of problem that the PCC is there to deal with. In fact the PCC has approached the police to ask if there is any way they can help.

“They can deal not only with the press but also broadcasters (about media scrums) and say ‘look there is a problem here, lets see if we can resolve it’ rather than simply sounding off against the media.

“At present no one seems to be taking a sensible approach to this.”

As well as being executive director of the Society of Editors, Bob has been a member of the Editors’ Code Committee, which produces the newspaper and magazine industry’s Code of Practice policed by the Press Complaints Commission.

He is a non executive director of the National Council for the Training of Journalists and a member of the Newspaper Qualifications Council. He has worked in regional newspapers and Fleet Street – as assistant editor of the News of the World – before becoming editor of the Cambridge Evening News in 1984, a post he held until 1998.


Gerry Keighley (20/02/2008 15:45:46)
I am incensed at the unprecedented behaviour of South Wales Police ACC David Morris, who has apparently decided that the press is to blame for the latest suicides. What about the 13 that happened before the story was first published?
My paper is on the fringes of this but I feel sorry for my colleagues in Cardiff who were unfairly blamed for red top excesses by ACC Morris yesterday, when, in fact, they have reported the tragedies responsibly. The police should be working with the local media, not demonising them.
Gerry Keighley
South Wales Argus