A local weekly newspaper along with 11 national titles have been rapped by press watchdogs over a “too explicit” online report about a man who committed suicide with a chainsaw.
PA realised that their original report fell foul of a Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice clause designed to minimise the risk of “copycat” suicides and sent out an amended version.
However this amended version did not reach the paper due to what the PCC is calling a “procedural failure” at PA.
In an adjudication today, the PCC ruled that the report, published on crawleyobserver.co.uk under the headline “Chainsaw death was ‘carefully thought through’ suicide,” had breached Clause 5 of the Code.
It said: “The article contained a long and graphic reference to the method of suicide. It set out the precise apparatus that had been constructed by the individual to enable his death.
“The newspaper indicated that it had taken the article from a live feed from the Press Association and published it unamended. PA subsequently made clear that it had quickly realised that the content of its copy was too explicit, and then issued a second version of it.
“Unfortunately, this did not replace the version on the Crawley Observer due to a procedural failure at PA.”
In its ruling, the PCC said that even before being aware of the complaint, PA took several steps to ensure that the situation would not be repeated.
The newspaper had also made clear that the issue had now been discussed at the highest levels within its parent company, Johnson Press, and that it would work with PA to ensure compliance in future.
In all, the PCC found that 12 newspaper articles in print and online about the death to be in breach of its rules on suicide reporting.
Clause 5 (ii) of the Code of Practice was introduced specifically to minimise the risk of copycat suicides by requiring editors to avoid publishing excessive detail about methods of suicide.
“In this case, the newspapers in question had gone further than a simple reference to the fact that the man had used a chainsaw to kill himself. In particular, they had described the manner in which the chainsaw had been activated and positioned. The Commission considered this information to be excessive,” said the ruling.
“Clause 5 (ii) was introduced specifically to prohibit the inclusion of detail that would act, in effect, as a blueprint for the method of a suicide. It is crucial that newspapers abide by its terms, in order to minimise the risk of copycat suicides.
“On this occasion, the online article contained far too much detail. It was a matter of concern that the newspaper had allowed the material to be published on its website, as this was a clear breach of the Code. The Commission welcomed the newspaper’s response to this complaint and trusted that the situation would not be repeated.”