No comment

Updated 9 September 2008

Two of the Sunday’s carried the Veitch story today (7 September).

Aren’t there rules around reporting possible/alleged/unproven incidents of this nature?

Veitch hospitalised (Stuff.co.nz)

Ex-lover plea for privacy (Stuff.co.nz)

Veitch in suicide bid (Sunday News)

Fears for Veitch after hospital dash (Herald on Sunday)

Lita (bitsontheside) has an excellent post saying pretty much what I would say, were I not making any comment.

So what are the rules around reporting suicide. The Coroners’ Act makes it difficult, if not impossible for the news media to say too much. Though no one seems sure where the line is, or when it’s been crossed. It’s a legal grey area that relies on self-regulation (which means “little, or no” regulation).

The Australian department of health has developed some resources for journalists, journalism educators and students around the issues of mental health and suicide reporting. Response Ability.

In New Zealand there is this material from SPINZ which contains links to good international sources.

The New Zealand Press Council (representing newspaper owners and management), had this to say in its 2001 Annual Report:

New Zealand’s print media increasingly regard the issue of suicide as one of urgent public interest and a major public health problem. But newspapers and magazines still face what the Press Council has called the “impenetrable thicket” of the Coroners Act 1988, especially Section 29, which deals with suicides. Section 29 says that coroners may provide publicly the basic details of a deceased person’s age, name and occupation, and find that a death was self-inflicted. They have discretion also to release the “manner” of a death, but because of confusion about what that term means, few coroners exercise that power.[Press Council 2001]

It’s interresting to note that this paragraph, word for word, is also printed in the 2005 Press Council Annual Report. In 2005, Jim Tully at the University of Canterbury was to draw up some guidelines and protocols for the media reporting of suicide,

In the 2008-2011 MoH Suicide Prevention action plan, there is this:

A number of approaches, including developing media guidelines, have been implemented internationally and in New Zealand to minimise the risk of harm from suicide reporting and portrayal. In New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has produced guidance to the media, and more recently a ‘mediaowned’
protocol has been developed by media organisations to provide guidance on safe reporting of suicide. It is essential that guidelines or protocols and other initiatives are developed and implemented as a collaborative effort between people working in the media and those working in suicide prevention.

The plan was launched in March 2008 by Jim Anderton, there are no guidelines in it.

Sorry, but after about 40 minutes of searching, i couldn’t find the MoH protocols. I did find this in a report by Jim Tully and Nadia Elsaka on Suicide and the Media from 2004:

4.2 Recommendations
The key recommendations are:
1. Mental health professionals should initiate a continuing dialogue with key industry
stakeholders based on mutual respect for each other’s views. A symposium on
suicide and the media convened in a spirit of genuine consultation would be a
useful starting point. Following that, mental health professionals should develop
relationships with industry bodies such as the Newspaper Publishers Association,
the New Zealand Press Council, the New Zealand Television Broadcasters’
Council, the Radio Broadcasters’ Association, the Magazine Publishers
Association, the Commonwealth Press Union New Zealand Section and the
Broadcasting Standards Authority.
2. Rather than modifying Suicide and the Media, the MOH should consider working
with the industry to develop protocols (as proposed by the CPU) that would be
‘owned’ by the industry as a basis for effective self-regulation. Such protocols or
guidelines could be incorporated in the codes of practice approved by the
Broadcasting Standards Authority and in the statement of principles of the New
Zealand Press Council, the two media watchdogs in New Zealand. They could
then consider complaints arising from alleged breaches of the codes or the
statement of principles.
3. A training kit for journalism schools modelled on the Australian resource,
Response Ability, should be developed in a New Zealand context and made
freely available. The Australian kit’s combination of a video, CDs, printed
materials and a website was prepared by mental health professionals and
journalism educators. The support of New Zealand journalism educators for
curriculum material of this kind should be sought as a top priority.
4. The training kit should also be offered to the New Zealand Journalists Training
Organisation for its professional training seminars.

I’m sure there are some useful guidelines, but they’re not easy to find on the web. If you come across them, or know where I can download a copy, please let me know.

6 Responses to No comment

  1. Truthseeker says:

    The mob-trial by media is partly to blame for Veitch’s state of mind. Not that they care. I’m now remembering why I decided not to be a professional journalist. I do recall editors telling me what would be expected to get a story…and my own decision that I wasn’t going to be that kind of person then or ever.

  2. NIK says:

    I understood suicide was off limits. Guess it doesn’t count when it’s a guy that’s already been vivisected by the papers.

  3. Cynic says:

    “Aren’t there rules around reporting possible/alleged/unproven incidents of this nature?”

    Obviously not on a blog. Is providing links to reports ‘reporting’ or just relaying?

  4. Good point Cynic, I think it’s a fine line, but would argue (in my own defence) that by linking I was, as you put it, “relaying”, not reporting.
    But, you could be right.

  5. Cynical says:

    But surely, to understand the post one would need to access the links? Or, does the story only talk to ‘insiders’? Then, a conundrum … is blogging only for talking to those ‘in the know’?

  6. Access away, the material is in the public domain now. My commentary is drawing attention to questions of whether or not it should be given the current law (the Coroner’s Act, etc) and also ethical considerations around the reporting of suicide and suicide attempts.

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