The national press has distorted and misunderstood stories of suicides in South Wales, according to politicians, local press and suicide charities.
There has been widespread coverage in national and local media of the apparent suicides of 17 young people in the Welsh town and county of Bridgend in the past year. The latest death, of 16-year-old Jenna Parry, follows the suicides last week of cousins Nathaniel Pritchard, 15, and Kelly Stephenson, 20, who lived 14 doors away on the same street in Bridgend.
Some papers have linked the deaths to social-networking website Bebo, which is hugely popular with teenagers. Some of the dead were linked as ‘friends’on the site.
Carwyn Jones, the Welsh Assembly Labour member for Bridgend, criticised what he called ‘the English press’for not understanding or respecting the area.
‘The difference between the Welsh media and the English coverage has been that the Welsh has been balanced,’he said.
‘I don’t call the [London-based newspapers] nationals because they have no interest in Wales unless there is a story about someone being murdered. It’s not every paper in fairness.
‘Some newspapers came with a preconceived idea of what Bridgend was going to be like.
‘It’s described as a highly depressed former mining town – but it’s never been a mining town. And the town is getting an awful reputation.”
Jones said the average suicide rate for Wales was 15 per 100,000, and Bridgend had 17, the sixth highest in the country. He added that some reports had confused Bridgend the town with Bridgend county.
Phil Irwin, a reporter for the free, weekly Glamorgan Gem titles, and also a part-time spokesman for The Samaritans, said: ‘Our coverage has been along The Samaritan reporting [suicide guidelines] and we have tried not to sensationalise too much.
‘The nationals have been full of inaccuracies and the area has been described as some sort of hell-hole.
‘In reality it’s a pleasant enough place to live.”
On Tuesday night Madeline Moon, the Labour MP for Bridgend, warned that the media is now ‘part of the problem”. And Assistant Chief Constable David Morris warned that young people is Beidgend have said media reports are affecting ‘how they feel”.
Shift, a Department of Health-backed charity, this week published a set of guidelines on report on mental illness and suicide which warned that reporting the exact way someone died could lead to copycat deaths.
The report also recommends that the media play a role in dispelling myths surrounding suicide such as that people who talk about taking their own lives do not carry it out, and that they include the helpline number for charities such as Samaritans, which is 08457 90 90 90.
Read the report in full at www.shift.org.uk/mediareport.