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No tyranny of silence around suicide

Hon Jim Anderton

Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity
Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Forestry
Associate Minister of Health
Associate Minister for Tertiary Education

Progressive Leader

07th June 2006 Media Statement

No tyranny of silence around suicide

Jim Anderton, the Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention said today that he was "deeply concerned about stories in both broadcast and print media that perpetuate the myth that there is some tyranny of silence around suicide reporting in this country."

"What needs to be emphasised is that media can report and do report on suicide.

"The way that the issue is constantly being debated would make people think that the media is gagged from reporting anything about suicide. Yet the legislative restrictions are only around reporting the details, and the method of individual suicides, without the authority of the coroner. Additionally, the Coroner has considerable discretion to decide how much detail should be in the public domain.

"The new Coroners Bill which aims at a more professional coronial system is currently before the House. It has been scrutinised by a select committee to which submissions have been made, following which the committee itself has recommended effectively that the status quo around the restrictions be maintained. The reason for the committee’s recommendation is that the evidence presented to them showed that the way suicide is reported can lead, in a significant number of cases, to “copy cat suicides”.

"The Napier Coroner argues more reporting of suicide in the media will help reduce the suicide rate. However, there is no evidence to support this claim, rather the evidence all points in the opposite direction. There is a large body of international research showing a link between media coverage of suicide and a subsequent increase in suicides and suicide attempts and it would be irresponsible to dismiss this evidence." Jim Anderton said.

"Some dispute this research and the weight that should be given to it but in this situation, where lives are at stake, one would have thought a responsible media would have happily erred on the side of caution and accuracy.

"In the end the Ministry and I as Minister responsible for suicide prevention want reporting that is responsible. We don’t want to “gag” the media, we don’t want a “tyranny of silence”, or” hush-hush” reporting or to “tip toe” around the issue, which have all been phrases used, unreasonably, to describe the current position.

"We recognise that the media wants to and should, report in the public interest. It is just how they do it that we are concerned about. Leaders in the media industry are already working on a new protocol to guide them on this issue, recognising that if suicide is to be reported, then in must be done without putting vulnerable people at more risk.

"For the record we do not “hold the world record” for self-inflicted deaths of males between the ages of 15-24, and our suicide statistics have been trending downward over the past 5 years, particularly because of a decrease in the male youth age group suicide rate. But this government acknowledges the need to continue with our suicide prevention strategies in order that this downward trend continues” said Jim Anderton the Associate Minister of Health.

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