Local paper falls foul of watchdog for breaching suicide reporting standards

Note: If you or someone close to you requires personal assistance, please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14

Star News Group’s Southern Free Times, which reports on Queensland’s Warwick region, has fallen foul of the Australian Press Council for the way it reported on an alleged suicide attempt in an article titled ‘Very near tragedy’.

The watchdog noted that there was a benefit in reporting on such issues, however given the family of the victim had explicitly asked for the publication not to proceed, the public interest did not outweigh the lack of consent. 

The Council concluded that the Southern Free Times breached Suicide Standard 3.

“As the complainant’s sister expressly asked the publication not to report on the incident, there was no clear and informed consent from the man’s family. In such circumstances, the public interest had to be strong enough to report the incident as a suicide attempt notwithstanding the lack of consent. The Council considered the public interest here did not extend to reporting on this individual instance in as explicit a manner as occurred. Accordingly, the Council concluded that the publication breached Suicide Standard 3 in this respect,” the ruling said.

The article did not name the man, which did comply with the family’s requests. Accordingly, it did not breach the Press Council’s Suicide Standard 4.  It also did not sensationalise, glamorise, trivialise or stigmatise suicide, according to the watchdog, s did not breach Suicide Standard 6.

The man’s daughter, however, complained on the basis of factual inaccuracies and misleading claims. She also argued that by revealing the man’s location and his employer, the small surrounding community would be able to join the dots.

In response, the publication argued it was at least the fourth article in a series reporting on mental health concerns of past and present employees relating to bullying and intimidation.

The Southern Free Times stood by the decision to publish the article, but accepted references to the man inflicting self- harm could have been worded more appropriately.

The Press Council also decided the publication didn’t exploit the tragedy with undue prominence or unnecessarily explicit headlines or images, “but rather the publication exercised sensitivity and moderation in electing not to report on the incident on the front page or online”. The story this also met the requirements for Suicide Standard 7″.

The article questioned what drove the man to this behaviour, but the Press Council accepted it was well-intentioned.

Note: If you or someone close to you requires personal assistance, please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14


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