By Neou Vannarin
Sept 13, 2013
(Hong Kong) Disrespectful and reckless suicide reporting encourages copycat cases and may ultimately result in a higher suicide rate, a group of specialists and the Hong Kong Press Council said early last week.
During a seminar on “The Contagion of Suicide Reporting” held at the University of Hong Kong late last week to launch a set of guidelines on suicide reporting, experts from HKU, the Press Council, and victims’ families said disrespectful reports and overwhelming coverage of suicides in newspapers and social media often result in more suicide attempts.
According to a press release provided to journalists after the seminar, 841 suicides took place in Hong Kong in 2012, up from 750 in 2011, which increased the suicide rate to 11.8 per 100,000 people in 2012 compared to 10.6 in 2011.
Dr Paul Yip, director of the University of Hong Kong’s Center for Suicide Research and Prevention, told the conference that in contravention of international best practices, the news media in Hong Kong have gone too far in their reporting and invaded the personal space of suicide victims and their families.
“If you look into the international practice, what you can see is that there is only one percent of suicide cases in Australia reported, whereas in Hong Kong, 37 percent of the suicides [are] being reported,” he said, adding that the worst thing is that information about suicide attempts and methods of committing suicide is now being distributed widely on the internet and social media, where the public can easily access it. This online information often originates in sensational print media reports, he said.
“We had the worst increase [in suicide] among those who had been using a lot of social media. It is our concern. It could be a caurse contributing to the increase of the suicide rate last year,” Dr Yip said. “They looked at the social media and news, where [do suicide methods] in social media come from? They come from the print media, so they are interconnected.”
The chairman of the Hong Kong Press Council, Dr. Joseph Chan, said that it is very important to put guidelines on suicide reporting into practice to reduce suicide attempts and copycat suicides, which often result from unprofessional reporting.
“The guidelines are to strike a balance between the needs of reporting and…the social obligation to respect lives. In this case, suicide reporting should be put in balance,” he said. “People are copying the behavior and imitating the behavior.”
The book of guidelines, which was distributed last week, said that reports of suicides should not be placed on the front page of news media and repeatedly broadcasted. The guidelines also instructed journalists to avoid describing suicide methods, and provide some ideas to prevent suicide committing.
“Using sanguinary photos and sensational content to report a suicide incident is against journalism’s professional and ethical code of conduct, and creates further harm and disturbance to the public and the victim’s family,” read the description of the guidelines.
Ms. Jeannie Wu, the wife of a suicide victim, said she was bothered by unprofessional and false reporting following her husband’s suicide several years ago, which caused her more suffering on top of the loss of her husband.
“What was really frustrating was the fact that media reports are adding a lot of unnecessary contents and digging up the victim’s old history, which are not closely related,” she told the conference, adding that her husband committed suicide because of severe depression, not for the reasons cited in media reports.
“Society should not avoid talking about taboo subjects like mentally ill patients or suicide victims. It may be awkward and depressing, but to avoid talking about it means to avoid understanding it, which also means to avoid helping hands,” Ms. Wu added.