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  1. Media Law
March 9, 2009

Codebook provides new guidance on reporting suicide

By Jon Slattery

New advice to editors on how to report suicides in the aftermath of a series of deaths of young people in Bridgend has been published today.

It is contained in the new edition of the editors’ codebook, the official handbook to the editors’ code of practice, which underpins the work of the Press Complaints Commission.

Other major revisions of the handbook cover data protection, privacy and intrusion into grief.

On suicide, the codebook suggests there are areas where editors might voluntarily mitigate the effects of legitimate publicity surrounding the reporting of suicides.

These include reporting helpline numbers when covering suicide stories; considering whether it is necessary to republish images of others who have taken their own lives when covering a new suicide; and not using photographs supplied by friends or from social networking sites, without the close family’s consent.

The editors’ codebook is written by former Western Daily Press editor Ian Beales, who is secretary to the editors’ code of practice committee.

“We are not saying you should never do these things – the advice is discretionary,” he told Press Gazette.

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“What has come from organisations like the Samaritans and Papyrus is that these things would help. It’s what many editors already do when reporting suicides.”

The new guidelines were welcomed today by youth suicide prevention charity Papyrus, which said it looked forward to “more sensitive and informed reporting”.

Papyrus chairwoman Anne Parry said: “We are pleased that the editors’ code of practice committee has listened to the concerns of organisations like Papyrus and made an effort to include our views.

“This is a very positive move forward, the outcome of continuing co-operation between those working to protect and promote the wellbeing of vulnerable people and those around them, and the organisations that deliver the nation’s news.”

On privacy, the codebook includes extended case studies of the latest PCC rulings on intrusion into privacy, with guidance on photographing people without consent; on revealing pregnancies; and on journalists joining police raids.

On data protection, the codebook highlights the PCC’s system of private advisory notices, alerting editors to requests from people who claim they are being harassed by the media.

Copies are available from the PCC and in PDF format on the committee’s website.

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