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Review of Suicide and the Media

6 April 2005

Review of Suicide and the Media

The government and media organizations need to work more closely together on the issue of youth suicide, an independent review has found.


A review of Suicide and the Media: the reporting and portrayal of suicide in the media, a resource, developed by the Ministry of Health in 1998 and 1999, was released today by Associate Minister of Health, Jim Anderton.

The review scoped the awareness of senior media professionals about the media guidelines and identified their issues and concerns about the use of guidelines; and identified ways to address those concerns.

The key findings of the review are:

·The media guidelines developed by the Ministry of Health have been largely ignored by the news media;
·Senior media professionals strongly oppose restrictions on suicide reporting and believe the Coroners Act 1988 is unduly restrictive;
·The development of suicide reporting guidelines acceptable to the news media would require a process of extensive consultation between health professionals and media professionals;

The review also recommends the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Youth Development consider working with the industry to develop media protocols that could be incorporated in media industry codes of practice.

"This review provides some constructive pointers on how the Ministries of Health and Youth Development can continue working with the media industry to find common ways to reduce New Zealand's high suicide rate," Jim Anderton said.

"There is no intention that media guidelines act as a form of censorship, rather they are a way to help discourage unsafe reporting.

"There is a general consensus amongst health professionals that there is a sufficient link between publicity around suicide and copy cat behaviour to warrant media protocols for safe reporting to limit the risk of this happening."

Mr. Anderton believes the World Health Organisation (WHO) has provided clear leadership on the need for media guidelines for suicide reporting.

In the WHO resource in 2000, the organization states:

"Reporting of suicide in an appropriate, accurate and potentially helpful manner by enlightened media can prevent tragic loss of lives by suicide. Overall, there is enough evidence to suggest that some forms of non-fictional newspaper and television coverage of suicide are associated with a statistically significant excess of suicide; the impact appears to be strongest among young people."

Jim Anderton also noted that the review's findings highlight that development of protocols in consultation with the media could be incorporated into codes of practice.

"The recommendations of the review will be used to inform future suicide prevention actions that are being considered as part of the development of a draft New Zealand All Ages Suicide Prevention Strategy," the Progressive leader said.
The report, A study of the media response to Suicide and the Media: the reporting and portrayal of suicide in the media, a resource is available from the Ministry of Youth Development website.


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