9 April 2014
The Institute of Maltese Journalists (IĠM) wishes to draw the attention of all journalists and those who, through personal websites and other social media fora, are currently reporting, commenting and openly speculating about the developments related to the death of a teenage minor, of their responsibility towards society and the profession in the reporting of suicides.
In instances like this, the IĠM appeals for prudence and restraint in the level of detail that is reaching the public domain. Irrespective of the source and the freedom of speech that is rightly being exercised, attention should be paid to the implications of what is being published in whatever medium and how many people can be affected by this information: the families of those involved, under age teenagers and children, who are highly impressionable, and all those who can be susceptible to copycat actions as a result of the information communicated.
The ethical standard on the reporting of suicide stands, irrespective of the source of the information, since the widespread implications for those most vulnerable is the same. It is not the standard that is flexible, but the threshold to which we are held by this standard. The enormous potential impact of the recent tragic events on countless youths, already stressed as they prepare for national examinations, vulnerable individuals with emotional difficulties, and the population at large, calls for raising rather than lowering the threshold, and greater self-restraint and décor by all involved.
According to IĠM Chairman Malcolm J. Naudi: “We are the first to support that the reporting of the proceedings in court is privileged but the shocking content that is emerging leads the Institute to appeal for prudence for the sake of our children and all those who are vulnerable – irrespective of this case.”
There has been a long-standing, unwritten arrangement, which the mainstream media have largely followed, that suicides are not reported. According to the Canadian Psychiatric Association, there is a significant evidence base demonstrating that media reporting of suicides is linked to copycat suicides among youths and young adults under 24 years of age. The association in 2008 went so far as to issue guidelines on the reporting of suicides http://publications.cpa-apc.org/media.php?mid=733&xwm=true.
In another recommendation on the reporting of suicides, http://reportingonsuicide.org/Recommendations2012.pdf, it is stated that the risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalises or glamorises a death.