Health

Suicide reporting tightened

STEPHANIE MCLOUGHLIN

The reporting of suicide in Australian print media will now follow a stringent set of guidelines released by the Australian Press Council.

The often-taboo subject of suicide previously had journalists relying on the Press Council’s general news writing guidelines, leaving many reporters unsure of where they stood.

Western Australia’s Shadow Mental Health Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich said the new guidelines were a step forward in communicating.

“Suicide is an important matter to families and to communities as a whole,” Ms Ravlich said.

“Certainly the reporting changes will mean there will be more information available on what is happening in relation to the number of suicides.

“There is no doubt in my mind this is a matter of public interest.”

Ms Ravlich said that under the previous guidelines journalists were loathe to report on matters relating to suicide – which was regrettable

“This is a growing problem that people need to be aware of and the key way for that to happen is for information to be made publicly available,” she said.

Chair of the national ethics panel of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Chris Smyth, said guidance had been present for journalists but the new guidelines are more rigorous.

“In a way the guidance was always there, but this provides a closer test about what is the public interest, how you should in a sense test out the harm this could cause and to be mindful of certain issues that we know are contentious in the reporting of suicide, like the method of suicide, like the precise locations,” Mr Smyth said.

The question can be raised whether the new guidelines cover the issue of privacy in relation to the reporting of suicide.

“I think this is quite an interesting test for the media just now,” Mr Smyth said.

“There are calls for a new taut of privacy that is to stop the invasion of privacy that are not covered by other types of law like trespass or now, defamation, which doesn’t include privacy as an issue.

“It’s time to be extremely careful about the reporting of other people’s affairs and to really test the public interest that is inherent in an individual’s circumstance.”

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