HKJA Guidelines of Coverage of Suicides

(1) . Coverage of recent suicides has caused serious concern among some circles in Hong Kong . Media studies in overseas countries have pointed out that coverage of such cases creates a so-called “copy-cat” effect, prompting more people to choose suicide as a way to solve their problems. However, academics are not unanimous on this point. Some studies argue that there has been no significant correlation between the reporting of individual cases and the actual number of suicides over a given period.
(2) . The Hong Kong Journalists Association has compared the way overseas news organizations cover suicides. In the United States and Canada , journalists have agreed generally among themselves not to report individual cases. Instead, they focus on general suicide trends and the reasons for such trends. However, they have agreed to report suicides which involve a celebrity or which have a significant impact on the public. In many other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Australia , there are no specific rules on the reporting of individual cases, except that news organizations normally exercise a certain degree of self-restraint and try to avoid creating any “copy-cat” effect.
(3) . The HKJA believes that a total ban on the coverage of individual suicides is not appropriate in Hong Kong . However, journalists should seek to strike a balance between the need to report news and the danger of creating a “copy-cat” effect.
(4) . Editors and reporters should in particular be aware of the impact that stories about suicides might have on the vulnerable. They should be aware of the following:
a) Certain sensationalists ways of describing suicide in the news contribute to copy-cat cases;
b) Inadvertent romanticization of suicides may encourage others to identify with a victim; and
c) Reporting of detailed suicide methods can encourage vulnerable individuals to imitate these methods.
(5) . In dealing with suicides, the HKJA recommends that the press should follow the principles stated below, unless overriding public interest is involved:
a) Journalists should adopt a low-key approach in handling suicide news. They should consider placing such stories on the inside pages of newspapers, and in less prominent positions in radio and television news bulletins, if such stories are used at all, given the significant influence the electronic media have on public attitudes.
b) They should avoid a detailed description of the suicide method.
c) The media should avoid giving a false impression, in particular to youngsters, that suicide is away to become famous. The use of a victim’s full name and photograph is therefore discouraged.
d) The media should respect the privacy of family members and avoid imposing on the grief of those affected.
e) Since there are many complicated reasons for suicides, journalists should avoid simplicity and blaming any party for a particular case. Of greater importance, the media should devote more space to coverage of suicide trends and ways to remedy problems related to such trends.
f) When reporting individual cases, newspapers should consider publishing information about organizations and counseling services, which may prevent suicides. These include the Samaritans and other voluntary agencies.
(6) . In covering suicide stories, journalists should be aware that the media can play a powerful role in educating the public about suicide prevention. Stories about suicide can inform readers and viewers about the likely causes of suicide, warning signs, trends in suicide rates, recent treatment advances, and cases where individuals have overcome despair without resorting to suicide.