Mind and Samaritans suggest tabloid coverage of Robin Williams death could prompt copycat suicides - Press Gazette

Mind and Samaritans suggest tabloid coverage of Robin Williams death could prompt copycat suicides

Questioned have been raised over whether tabloid reporting of the death of Robin Williams breached media guidelines aimed at preventing reports from inspiring copycat suicides.

Guidance issued by Samaritans suggests it was ok for the media to reveal yesterday that Williams apparently hanged himself.

But it cautions against further detail about the circumstances of his death being revealed.

Samaritans also asks editors not to put suicides on the front page, and not to speculate about the trigger for someone taking their own life, again for fear of prompting copycat attempts.

The PCC Editors’ Code states: “When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used.”

The charities Mind and Samaritans both contacted national newspapers yesterday to urge caution with reporting of the death of Williams.

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: “We’re disappointed by reporting and headlines in many of today’s newspapers which contravene good practice set out by Samaritans guidance and Mind’s own advice.

“Mind issued a briefing to all newsdesks twice yesterday with information on how to report suicide in a responsible way as there is clear evidence that media coverage of suicide, particularly graphic language illustrating the method used, can lead to copycat deaths.

"It is important to note that some media coverage has been sensitive and this should be welcomed as we know that exposure for these issues can prompt people to seek the support they need as well as help to reduce the stigma around mental health problems.    

“We will be contacting newspapers individually to take forward our concerns as well as the Press Complaints Commission."

Executive director of campaign group Hacked Off Joan Smith said: 'Much of today's coverage of the apparent suicide of Robin Williams is sensational and speculative.”

She called on the chairman of new press regulator IPSO Sir Alan Moses to condemn the coverage.

Hacked Off flagged up the front page coverage today in The Sun, Daily Mirror, Daily Star, Metro and Daily Mail.

Several newspapers reported the detail that Williams had apparently slashed one of his wrists before hanging himself and that he was found in a chair in his bedroom.

Newspapers also reported money problems which they said might have driven him to despair.

Sophie Borromeo, director of communications at Samaritans, said: “The media has come a long way over the past few years in terms of sensitively reporting suicide, which is why we are concerned to see that there have been a large number of articles detailing unnecessary information about the nature of Robin Williams’ death.  We are taking steps to address our concerns.

“Research shows that inappropriate portrayal of suicide in the media can lead to imitative behaviour amongst vulnerable people and this risk is heightened when a celebrity has died in this way. We issued a briefing to the media yesterday reminding them of these risks and specifically asking them to avoid reporting explicit details of the suicide method. We also offered guidance on reporting the death appropriately. For the most part it’s positive to see the media has talked about the complexities of suicide and the need to breakdown the stigma around mental health issues, as well as encouraging people to seek help.

“Samaritans has been working with the media for over two decades to help promote sensitive and appropriate reporting. We publish media guidelines for reporting suicide, which are freely available on our website: http://www.samaritans.org/media-centre/media-guidelines-reporting-suicide.

“Samaritans media team are experts in the field of the safe portrayal of suicide and we strongly urge the media to act on our advice and contact us if in doubt.”


Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette