Archive for the ‘suicide’ tag

Representing a financial crisis

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What to say and what not to say.

In the current financial maelstrom, when news can send share prices plummeting and lead people to rush to withdraw their life savings, the question of whether a news report is representative suddenly becomes rather more pressing.

Broadcasting pictures of people queuing outside banks is likely to convince other people to do the same. This is not to say a news organisation should not show such pictures, but that it needs to think carefully about whether the pictures are representative of general behaviour, or limited to an isolated few.

It was for this reason that Peter Horrocks, the BBC’s head of television news, made the decision not to show people queuing outside branches of Halifax in Middlesbrough and Glasgow, until the BBC was sure it was a nationwide trend:

we decided that queues in two places were not conclusive evidence of a widespread financial phenomena. We decided to wait and watch. The queues later dissipated” (from Editors Blog).

The mood is so febrile right now that there seems little question that, had the BBC screened people panicking, more people would have panicked.

Contrast this with the front page of the Mail over the weekend, reporting that a City financier killed himself because, we are told, of ‘mounting financial pressure’. Clearly a shocking story and newsworthy, but representative? How many City financiers commit suicide each year? Given there are many hundreds of thousands working in the City, it cannot be that unusual for a single person to kill themselves. Each death, though tragic, is certainly not necessarily significant of a trend.

No, the reason this story made it to the front page was because of the parallels with 1929. Because someone committing suicide makes the current situation feel more precipitous. Perhaps it will become like 1929, but if deaths such as this are not representative, then we don’t need the media nudging the story in that tragic direction.

Written by Martin Moore

September 29th, 2008 at 10:57 am

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Why add a 'suicide' clause if it's ignored?

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Defending the press’ coverage of the suicides in South Wales, Bob Satchwell told the Today Programme this morning that there had, as yet, been no complaints.

Good grief. What an astonishing indictment of the current methods of newspaper self-regulation. Only eighteen months ago the newspapers were congratulating themselves on having added a new clause to their code of conduct:

“5(ii) When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used.”

This followed a lengthy campaign, by the Samaritans and others, which showed that there was a demonstrable connection between the lurid coverage of suicides and subsequent ‘copycat’ suicides.

The Express’ coverage of Bridgend must surely classify as lurid. Under the title “Another Girl Hangs herself in Death Town” the paper describes the death of Angie Fuller, uses material from her Facebook profile, and compares her death to those of others in south Wales.

The paper quotes one of the other victims mother, describing her son’s death; “He was hanging from the frame of a wardrobe we were getting fitted. He’d used a dressing gown cord. I had to cut him down”. Does this count as ‘care… taken to avoid excessive detail’?

But the Press Complaints Commission won’t take any action unless there is a complaint. Yet even if a relative of another of the victims wanted to complain about the Express’ coverage, there is no guarantee the complaint would be accepted. The Press Complaints Commission clearly states that it does not take ‘third party complaints’. In other words you have to be referred to directly in the article. As a relative of another victim you almost certainly count as a ‘third party complainant’.

What is the point of the additional clause in the code of conduct if it is both ignored and unenforceable?

Written by Martin Moore

February 7th, 2008 at 4:09 pm

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Social networking, suicide, and the power of imitation

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It took a long time, but in 2006, after being shown compelling evidence about the link between media portrayals of suicide and ‘copycat’ suicides, newspapers agreed to be more restrained in their coverage.

‘When reporting suicide,’ the newspapers’ editorial code now reads ‘care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used.’

Yet, just as the newspapers decided to show more self-restraint, people were given free rein to show and share as much as they wanted via the internet.

There may be no link between the suicides of seven young people in Bridgend, but given the findings of past research, the new taskforce that has been set up to investigate possible connections between the deaths needs to spend some time looking at the role of social networking sites and memorial sites like GoneTooSoon.

The evidence linking media coverage and suicide was collected together and discussed at length by the Oxford Centre for Suicide Research in 2003 (summarised here).

When newspapers covered suicides in graphic detail – particularly those of celebrities – over two thirds of the research studies found that the number of suicides went up. ‘In 21 [of 30 studies] there was evidence of an increase in suicides after the [newspaper] reports, with 10 of these also finding evidence of a causal link between the reported suicide(s) and those occurring following the report.’

For television news the evidence was even starker. ‘Of 13 studies of television news reports of suicides on at least two of three national TV networks in the USA,’ Professor Keith Hawton’s research showed, ‘an increase in suicide rates was found after the reports in 10 of the studies.’ And it wasn’t just from news reports, fictional representations of suicide in dramas and soap operas sparked increases as well.

In his conclusion Hawton could not have been clearer about his findings. ‘Media reporting or portrayal of suicides can influence suicidal behaviour, leading to: Increases in the overall number of suicides; [and] Increases in the use of particular methods of suicide’.

Melanie Davies, the mother of one of the young men who killed himself in Bridgend, was quoted in the Guardian as saying “It’s like a craze – a stupid sort of fad. They all seem to want to be copying each other by wanting to die”.

Academic research suggests she may well be right. It also suggests that media may have played a large part in their decisions. What can be done about this – and particularly about self-published media on the net – is a very difficult question, but one we need to ask to help avoid a repeat of the tragedy at Bridgend.

Written by Martin Moore

January 23rd, 2008 at 5:36 pm

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