Suicide Attempt Coverage – Breach of Professional Ethics

Akeed – Aya Khawaldeh

Local news sites which posted a video of a man attempting to commit suicide have breached various professional and ethical principles applied in suicide coverage, according to Jordan’s Media Monitor, Akeed.

The four-minute long video “A citizen Attempts Suicide Using Gas Cylinder… Live Broadcast” was initially broadcast live on Facebook Live Stream. This in itself represents a major mistake committed by these websites from a professional and legal perspective, stressed the online monitoring portal.

Media outlets should use the right photos when reporting on suicide; harsh photos that would scare and discourage vulnerable people from taking their own lives. The media, urges Akeed, should not publish dramatic images which publicize suicide and promote it as if it was something normal. What is equally important is that the victim’s personal photos must never be used.

Mentioning the suicide method in the news headline is another mistake made by these media outlets. In doing so, the media is presenting those who suicidal thoughts with a new and easy method for inflicting self-harm, and may actually be encouraging them to end their lives, notes Akeed.

Legal consultant and former Director General for Media Commission Mohammad Quteishat said that such footage should not be broadcast live by the media. The media message that should be conveyed is that suicide is a phenomenon that is against law, ethics, humanitarian principles, and against all religions, he told Akeed.

Furthermore, the rights of the audience should be protected in reporting suicide attempts, explained Quteishat; i.e. harmful and disturbing images should not be presented. The media should also ensure that those who tried to commit suicide do not get exposed, added the official.

It is worth noting that Akeed had discussed suicide news coverage in earlier reports. These included 6 Cases of Child and Teen Suicide - Media Reports but Fails to Investigate, and Reporting on Suicide: Persistent Media Violations.

It has also published several tips for journalists on how to report suicide which were issued by the Center for International Media Ethics.   

Akeed urges reporters to follow the professional and ethical principles in reporting sensitive stories, primarily those related to suicide. The privacy and feelings of the victim’s family should also be respected, notes Akeed. Additionally, the media should be careful not to present information or details that can have a negative impact on the society’s behavior.