Reporting SuicidesShould the newspapers report suicides? The answer lies with the newsworthiness of a particular suicide.Suicides that serves little in terms of larger public interest are better left out from the media. The cardinal principle is not to glorify suicide and underplay a revenge aspect, if any.
Dowry related suicides might have a revenge aspect to it. The better course here would be to highlight the police case against the in laws or others than the suicide itself.
Few would doubt that a suicide like that of the British weapons expert, David Kelly, should be reported in detail. However, when it comes to the suicide of the engineering college student (Rajani S. Anand) in Kerala who committed suicide allegedly because she could not get funding for her studies, the issue becomes tricky.
Psychologists say most of the suicide victims have some sort of mental illness at the time of their committing suicide. So, issues such as poverty only become a background for suicides. It is better stated as such.
Several newspapers in the State can be said to have sensationalised the suicide. Yet, it is notable that the outcome was not negative. Though certain ways of reporting suicides can influence others to commit suicide, the reporting of the college student’s action did not lead to any ‘copycat’ suicides.
However, ‘copycat’ suicides must have occurred in the case of farmer’s suicides in the State. (The danger of imitations is higher when the visual media reports them.) So, the question that arises is whether the media should have avoided reporting of hundreds of suicides and instead limited the coverage to publication of statistics and other relevant information.
It was a significant number of reports about suicides that appeared over a short period that attracted public attention to the farmer’s suicides and the high rate of suicides in the State, particularly, the agrarian districts of Idukki and Wayanad.
The Government initially suppressed or misinterpreted the statistics. So, the facts might not have come to light unless some newspapers reported even the suicides of ordinary farmers. This shows that the canvas of public interest and newsworthiness of suicides is wide.
What not to do.
(From WHO resource for media professionals)
• Don’t publish photographs or suicide notes.
• Don’t report specific details of the method used.
• Don’t give simplistic reasons.
• Don’t glorify or sensationalise suicide.
• Don’t use religious or cultural stereotypes.
• Don’t apportion blame.
by John Mary
One glaring lapse in reporting death by suicide of Rajani S.Anand was a certain, perhaps, unintended indifference to the probable impact on impressionable minds. Both print and electronic media could have tried to take comments from sociologists, psychologists and psychiatrists on suicide prevention. Such stories running parallel to Rajani reportage would have checked an inadvertent romanticsing or glorification of the Dalit student's option of death by suicide as the final solution to her life of deprivations.
Journalists may be sensitive or insensitive but some education is called for in getting one's sensibilities right. For instance, journalists with a strong Catholic upbringing start off with an inherent sensibility disadvantage in reporting suicides.
The Church frowns on suicides. Job is the icon of the ideal sufferer who clings to his faith and finally gets deliverance from Yehova. The Church has never sainted a suicide victim. Rather the Church's gallery is full of martyrs who encounter death bravely. So suicide is bad and sinful for a Catholic. Such a catechism would have already desensitised the journalist to suicides, which are undesirable and un-Christian acts. Though this may not be quite evident in the journalist, at the subconscious level such a slant might be real.
Journalists with such a background might err in not being subtle with suicide reporting, that is, not showing empathy to the victim as well as those on the brink.