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Tuesday, February 19

Tabloids kill kids?

A seventeenth teenage suicide was announced today in Bridgend. And one of the parents faced a press conference to denounce media coverage.

Sharon Pritchard and husband Vincent appealed to the media to stop high profile coverage.

They said: "We have lost a son, and media coverage made a difficult time unbearable. We did not wish to speak to the media. Not just for ourselves but for other families.

"We feel the media coverage could trigger other people who are already feeling low - to take their own lives.

"We feel that Nathaniel might have thought it was a way of getting attention without fully thinking through the consequences."

They said they never believed there was any 'internet pact'.
Much of the media has been speculating about the guilt of Bebo/MySpace, with zero evidence, though encouraged by the web-naive local MP, Madeleine Moon, who is now complaining about the coverage she generated. Teens in the area are actually using social networks to work against suicide. In the entire history of the web there are only a very few isolated examples of online 'suicide cults'. Yet the tabloids haven't stopped speculating in their ignorance (or worse).

People who know the subject well are angry too.

Suicide Prevention Charity Calls for End to Media Coverage of Bridgend Suicide

5 February 2008

With reports today of another young death in the Bridgend area being attributed as a possible suicide, Papyrus, the national charity for prevention of young suicide, is calling on media to resist further coverage surrounding the recent tragic suicides in Bridgend. Although this latest death is not yet confirmed as suicide, the charity reiterates its concern regarding copycat instances. It is well known that insensitive media reporting of suicide can prompt copycat cases, says the charity.

“Media coverage must stop,” said Anne Parry, chair, PAPYRUS. “We believe there is nothing further to be gained. We are seriously concerned that any more coverage would be counter-productive and exacerbate the current state of affairs, with disastrous results. At worst it could lead to further suicide attempts. We are asking media please do not draw further attention to this situation. We are also calling on other charities to support our initiative.”

I just looked up 'suicide town' in the UK Press:

Mail: 'Two cousins in 'suicide town' hang themselves within hours'
Metro: 'Police probe death in Bebo suicide town'
Sun: '17th victim in 'suicide town''
Telegraph: 'Suicide websites blamed for deaths'
Times: 'Is an e-suicide cult sweeping the UK?'

The tabloid wing of the BBC: 'Web worries after suicide spate'; 'Call to ban 'suicide chatrooms''

Guardian: 'There's no such place as 'Suicide Town''
Here's the rules, updated by the Press Complaints Commission [PCC] in 2006, my emphases:
Until now, reporting of suicide has been covered by the Code’s general provisions on Intrusion into Grief and Shock, which require the press to carry out inquiries with sympathy and discretion and to handle publication sensitively.

However, as part of its annual Code review, the Committee considered international evidence highlighting the dangers of imitative deaths following reports of suicide.

In the light of that, the Committee, which writes and revises the voluntary Code to which the British press subscribes, felt that the risk of copycat suicides should be addressed specifically.

Code Committee chairman Les Hinton, Executive Chairman of News International [fox? henhouse], said: “During our annual review, we received convincing evidence, from the Samaritans and others, that media reporting of suicide often prompted copycat cases. It is an international phenomenon.

“We have attempted to minimise that risk - while maintaining the public’s right to know - by emphasising the need for care to avoid excessive detail, unless it is in the wider public interest to give the information.

[Here's the agreed clause: *5ii: When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used. - The asterisk indicates that under the new sub-clause exceptions could be made if editors could demonstrate that it was in the public interest.]

“For example, while it might be perfectly proper to report that the suicide was caused by an overdose of Paracetamol, it would probably be excessive to state the number of tablets used.

“We have consulted with the industry on this and it has been accepted. The new rule, in effect, codifies a practice already currently followed by many editors.”

The existing code was that reporting of suicide was covered by the Code’s general provisions on Intrusion into Grief and Shock, which require the press to carry out inquiries with sympathy and discretion and to handle publication sensitively.

So if the PCC already has rules and if the press isn't reporting details then 'suicide town', according to the self-regulated press doesn't constitute 'Intrusion into Grief and Shock'?

Apparently not, as the tabloid press seem to think they've done nothing wrong.

The Director of the Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell, told the BBC:
"There are a lot of things that can be done to help prevent suicide but one of those is not blaming the press or saying that they should stop reporting.

"I have read in the media a lot of harrowing and really frightening stories from some young people who were interviewed and they need listening to."
Speaking of the specific use of 'suicide town', this dick said:
"I think there are bigger issues here.

"There seems to be an unusual number of suicides in Wales and particularly this area and indeed Madeleine Moon has said so herself in the House of Commons.

"There are an unusual number of suicides occurring and there is a role which the media can play in trying to help in this situation."
I would love to see the parents take on the PCC with this:
Sharon, said: "Media coverage put the idea into Nathaniel's head."

Sitting beside Nathaniel's father, Vincent, Mrs Pritchard said: "We have lost our son and media reporting of this has made it an incredibly difficult time and more unbearable by intensive media coverage."
Which 'public'? Which 'interest'?


The Daily Mail really has no shame. Covering the press conference the next day there is no mention at all of Sharon Pritchard's comments about the media, nor the Police's.


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