Responsible Reporting Guidelines

August 09, 2012

News Type:  Weekly Spark Research

Involving journalists in developing guidelines for responsible reporting of suicide can produce a “buy-in” that encourages more responsible reporting, which in turn can result in a decline in imitative (sometimes called ‘copycat’) suicides. According to the authors of an international review of the research literature on media guidelines, the participation of journalists also helps make sure that the guidelines, as well as training programs and dissemination activities, respond to the professional responsibilities and constraints of media professionals and the culture of their audiences.

This review also revealed the importance of actively disseminating guidelines, especially using methods that “encourage journalists to explore the issues in a practical and self-directed way, enabling journalists to come to their own conclusions about how to report suicide.” The authors also stressed the importance of “refresher” activities to combat the tendency of the media to revert to more sensational – and less responsible – reporting over the long-run.

Involving representatives of the media in developing guidelines, as well as actively disseminating guidelines, will help change the current situation in which most reporters are either unaware of responsible reporting guidelines or fail to follow them.

The authors stressed that more research is needed on both the effectiveness of media guidelines as well as on how to promote their use. They also recommended that the media should be encouraged to take an active role in suicide prevention by educating the public and promoting help-seeking, and that guidelines be created for social media and other new communication technologies.

SPRC Resource

SPRC collaborated with a large number of other organizations to produce Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide, a brief guide to the “do’s” and “don’ts” of responsible reporting. This resource was developed by leading experts in suicide prevention and in collaboration with several international suicide prevention and public health organizations, schools of journalism, media organizations and key journalists as well as Internet safety experts.

Bohanna I. and Wang X. (2012). Media Guidelines for the Responsible Reporting of Suicide. A Review of Effectiveness. Crisis. 33(4), 1-9.