CAGAYAN DE ORO, PHILIPPINES – Covering suicide cases delving too much on personal details including identities of the victims and their families has been criticized for its extreme stigmatization and lack of sensitivity.
The Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPC) and the Psychology department of Xavier University raised their concerns over suicide reportage of anchors and reporters in some radio stations in the city.
In separate statements, both COPC and XU-Psychology department condemned the disclosure of information resulting to invading the privacy of the persons and families affected.
It has been observed that radio stations have dedicated significant airtime whenever suicide incidents in the city in the province of Misamis Oriental occur. The anchor would instruct their reporters to interview neighbors, family members and friends of the victim.
The reporters would gather information on personal details such as names, addresses, occupation and information on the last activities of the deceased that families or friends observed, remembered, seen or noticed before the suicide.
Prudence and empathy
In a statement posted on its social media on May 10, the XU-Psychology department said disseminating such personal information on this sensitive and often stigmatized issue is intrusion to the private lives of the affected families and the victims.
‘’While we understand that other information in the local news report are news items, there is no need and purpose for the public to know details like the names and specific addresses. Such exposure without regard to sensitivity to the issue potentially violates the privacy rights of the family,’’ the statement read.
The XU-Psychology department urges the media to exercise prudence and empathy in broadcasting information about suicide to avoid sensationalism and hold themselves [media practitioners] ‘’to account for the real and imagined harm inflicted upon the persons, families and the vulnerable, impressionable members of the society.’’
The department encourages the press and the public to treat suicide and the issues surrounding it with confidentiality and respect as it added saying, ‘They [media and public] must realize that behind these news reports are human beings who deserve treatment with dignity as we challenge the media and the public to be allies in suicide prevention and the promotion of positive mental health and well-being.’’
‘Don’t add more pains’
For its part, the COPC noted that covering incidents like suicide is a legitimate news copy and part of its ‘’social contract’’ with the public to provide news of interests and import.
‘’However, we share with their [XU-Psychology department] observation that naming or revealing identities of persons with mental health issues is not in accord with sensitivities. We would like to remind our members and fellow radio broadcasters to be sensitive on matters like mental health issues, particularly suicide-related deaths,’’ said COPC president Manny Jaudian, Ph.D., in a statement COPC released on May 11.
Jaudian said the media must not add more pains to the families by doing a ‘’blow by blow’’ account or descriptive reports that appear to sensationalize suicide incidents.
He said the media should continue to cover suicide incidents but must refrain from revealing names ‘’to give dignity to the persons who suffered most not of their own volition.’’
‘’Our coverage will lose its relevance when we join the circus of mediocre people now mushrooming on social media,’’ said Jaudian adding, ‘’let us be reminded of our crucial role in this fast-changing society of not only being truth tellers but also sensitive on news that invades the core of our humanity.’’
Covering death by suicide usually gains more audience, but its drawback is more negative than positive as the reportage is turned into ‘’feasting.’’
In a published article at Time.com, exposure to suicide either direct or through media and entertainment according to mental health experts ‘’may make people more likely to resort to suicidal behaviors, a phenomenon called: suicide contagion.’’
The article said that ‘’some specific journalistic practices like involving lots of details about death by suicide or glamorizing it, may make suicide contagion worse.’’
The Canadian Medical Association Journal, as quoted in the article, said ‘’We’re not saying reporting on suicide is bad. The goal is not to blame journalists and tell them how to do their jobs, but it is to provide a pretty strong research base to support specific guidelines about how reporting on suicide should be done.’’