Vancouver School Board urges media to follow suicide reporting rules
Candles are seen during a memorial for Amanda Todd in Surrey, B.C., Friday, Oct. 19, 2012. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Monday, December 3, 2012 4:40PM EST
The media coverage of B.C. teen Amanda Todd’s death and a recent report of an alleged “suicide pact” among First Nations youth have prompted the Vancouver School Board to call on media outlets to follow guidelines on reporting suicides.
The board will consider a motion Monday night that, if approved, will have the board write a letter to the BC Press Council, the BC Association of Broadcasters and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters asking them to adopt and ensure province-wide adherence to established guidelines.
The Canadian Psychiatric Association and the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention both have guidelines outlining how media outlets should report suicides in a way that will not encourage “copycats.”
Guidelines suggest that media organizations refrain from using the word “suicide” in headlines and publishing photos of the victims. It is also suggested that stories involving suicide not be run on the front page.
It is also advised that if journalists report on suicide, they do so in a constructive way by providing information on where distressed individuals can get help, warning signs of suicide and possible suicide alternatives.
The motion was brought up by Patti Bacchus, chair of the VSB.
Bacchus told CTVNews.ca that she decided to raise the matter after watching the coverage of Todd’s death.
Todd, 15, took her own life in October. It was widely reported that she had been the victim of bullying. Before her death, she had posted a video to YouTube where she outlined the struggles she’d faced with some of her tormentors.
After coming across a similar recommendation in a 2008 report by the province’s coroner, Bacchus decided to bring the motion to the board.
“The concern that this comes from is that there can be a ‘contagion effect’ with certain kinds of media reporting that can put youth at risk of suicide,” she said. “The fixation on an individual, repeatedly showing photos, front page coverage -- almost making a celebration of someone who has chosen to take their life comes with some real risks,” she said.
Bacchus said she encountered several reporters who felt similarly uncomfortable but, facing the pressures of the 24-hour news cycle and looming deadlines, rarely have an opportunity to discuss the issue with their editors.
She points to a separate recent report of a “suicide pact” made among dozens of First Nations youth that police discovered online. Bacchus said the number reported was incorrect.
“It was reported in some media that 30 kids from a particular school had been involved. That was absolutely not true,” she said.
With information and news constantly being passed around on social media, Bacchus admits that the media landscape has changed. But this is more reason to reopen the issue, she said.
“With the rapidly changing environment for social and news media I think it warrants a thoughtful and informed discussion,” she said.
“It’s tough for one media outlet to say ‘We’re not going to do this’ when everyone else is doing it. But that doesn’t make it OK,” she said. “It doesn’t make it OK if it’s putting kids at risk.”