In headlines now / 18.09.2020

Checklist for the media on reporting suicides

The UJF and other media organisations plus the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) have drawn up a checklist for the press  and other media to use when reporting on cases of suicide. The organisations publicised the checklist at a seminar on suicide, held in Helsinki on World Suicide Prevention Day, 10 September. The event was part of the 2020-2030 suicide prevention programme run by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. UJF ethics specialist Juha Rekola explained that the checklist for reporting suicide is not an addition to the official journalists guidelines. “It is an additional tool for journalists who cover suicide cases.” Unlike reporting on accidents, providing details of how or where suicides take place neither prevents nor reduces the likelihood of new cases from happening. Timo Partonen, research professor at THL, said that the reported details of suicides can be an example to people with suicidal thoughts. “The death of a public figure in particular not only has news value, but it is also prone to imitation." “But suicide is not a taboo,” stressed Pia Solin, developmental manager at THL. “Matter of fact reporting on suicide prevents rumours and false assumptions.” She said that news reporting on suicide should avoid using explicit photos, and suicide should not be sensationalised or normalised. Sirpa Kortet, chief editor of the newspaper Pyhäjokiseutu said that it is the job of the media to disseminate reliable information. “The newspaper lives with its readers in their day-to-day lives, in joys and sorrows. At times of grief, sorrow is shared. That’s why we try to focus on the facts underlying the situation.” The checklist drawn up by the union and THL covers eight points for journalists and editors to bear in mind when covering cases of suicide.
  1. Carefully consider whether reporting on suicide is necessary and what needs to be reported. Suicides that have attracted much publicity carry a risk of imitation. This applies equally to domestic and foreign news.
  2. Exercise discretion too in reporting on the suicide of a public figure. Particular circumspection is required because of the high risk of imitation.
  3. Take into account the feelings of those in mourning.
  4. Avoid mentioning the method of a suicide or the exact location unless there is a definite reason to do so.
  5. Don’t use sensational images (of the suicide method / place / victim).
  6. Don’t normalise or dramatise suicide.
  7. Suicide is not taboo. Objective reporting puts an end to rumours and false assumptions.
  8. Include details of support services where people can get help, if it fits with the news item naturally.
The seminar was organised by THL and the UJF, together with the Association of Chief Editors of Local Newspapers, the Finnish Association of Magazine Editors-in-Chief, the Finnish Association of City Editors-in-Chief, and the Council for Mass Media.    

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