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  1. Media Law
June 22, 2018

‘Excessive’ detail in weekly’s inquest report breached IPSO guidelines on reporting suicide

By Sam Forsdick

A local weekly newspaper which gave “excessive detail” in a report of a mental health worker’s suicide has been found in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The Forester, which covers the Forest of Dean, published an article headlined “Mental health worker refused help for his own depression” on 6 December last year.

The article, a report from the man’s inquest, included details of the location in which the man was found and specified the method of suicide and the ligature used.

It also reported details of previous attempts made by the mental health worker to end his life and said he had been found “after initially trying to hang himself”.

Sarah Jones, his widow, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, claiming the article breached Clause 1 (accuracy), Clause 4 (intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (reporting suicide) of the Editors’ Code.

The code says “care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media’s right to report legal proceedings”.

The Forester claimed that publication of the details of the suicide were in the public interest as it would “dispel rumours” about the man’s death.

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The title, which is owned by Tindle Newspapers, said it had received a number of calls from members of the public after an “unprecedented number of emergency services personnel” were seen in attendance at the incident.

The public interest clause of the code states: “Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication… would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.”

The complaint was upheld in part, with IPSO deciding that the newspaper had published excessive detail regarding the method of suicide in breach of Clause 5 (reporting suicide).

IPSO ordered an adjudication to be printed on page four or further forward, as the original article had been on page four.

The required adjudication said: “The committee decided that the publication of the precise material which the complainant’s husband had been used as a ligature identified that a readily available item within the home had been used to end his life.

“The committee recognised that newspapers play an important public function in reporting on inquest proceedings.

“However, the newspaper had not advanced a specific public interest justification in specifying the ligature which the complainant’s husband had used, nor was there any justification in the article as to why this item had been specified.”

Although Jones said the paper had also misattributed a quote made as part of her inquest evidence, the complaint under Clause 1 (accuracy) was not upheld.

There was also no breach of Clause 4 (intrusion into grief or shock), as IPSO said the article was “factual and non-sensational” and that, as it did not disclose any information regarding the circumstances of Jones’s husband’s death or any details relating to his close family members, it had “not been handled insensitively”.

The full ruling can be read here.

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