Anger over 'missing voice' from suicide review

16:00, Jan 17 2011
Maria Bradshaw
VOICE UNHEARD: Maria Bradshaw is "tired of Government inaction on the issue" of suicide.

Families of suicide victims are angry their voices were not included in a ministerial review of media reporting on suicide, a spokeswoman says.

Last August, The Press reported Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean as saying there should be greater openness over the reporting of suicide. Figures he supplied showed about 10 New Zealanders were taking their lives every week.

Prime Minister John Key asked the Ministerial Committee on Suicide Prevention to consider legal restrictions around suicide reporting, saying they were "somewhat defunct" because of social networking websites and internet blogs.

The committee, which reported back in November, said Ministry of Health guidelines on reporting suicide were "dated" and recommended a review.

However, it said the Coroners Act – which restricts reporting on individual suicides – was backed by current research and did not need revision.

Maria Bradshaw, co-founder of family support group CASPER, said the committee's review was missing the voices of the victims of suicide and families were "tired of Government inaction on the issue". Families were restricted by the Coroners Act as they could not say publicly how their loved one died, for instance in funeral notices, until the coroner had made a ruling.


Bradshaw had a court order imposed to stop her discussing her son's suicide publicly before the coroner had ruled on his death.

"That's no way to treat a victim group. It just increases the isolation and stigma," she said.

"We are bitterly disappointed that so often the rationale for restricting media reporting has been respect for families affected by suicide, but we have not been included in these discussions at all.

"As key stakeholders and the largest victim group in the country we would have expected that our views would have been included."

Evidence put forward by the ministry linking media reports and copycat suicides was outdated and new research questioned the connection, Bradshaw said.

"We are tired of hearing that the status quo has to remain when according to research the status quo has promoted rather than prevented suicide.

"We don't believe the Prime Minister has been well advised at all."

A spokeswoman for Key said the committee had taken a "balanced and sensible approach", which was well-supported by research.

"The Prime Minister also believes it would be helpful for the ministry to consider how the resource could apply to websites, given the importance of social networking sites among teenagers."

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne will chair a meeting of media, mental health professionals and researchers early this year to update the guidelines.

A spokesman for Dunne said the voices of families and friends affected by suicide were vital to the debate and they would be able to participate in the meetings this year.

Press editor Andrew Holden welcomed the review of reporting guidelines, but said the New Zealand mainstream media wanted the Coroners Act reviewed.

The overwhelming response to a series on suicide run by The Press last year was that "we need to acknowledge we have a serious problem and make every effort to help not just those who may be suicidal, but their families and friends."

Newspaper Publishers' Association chief executive Tim Pankhurst said the explosion in social networking made the Coroners Act largely irrelevant.

"If a teenager is killed, then hundreds of people are going to be Facebooking or tweeting about that within a couple of hours. Those kids aren't reading newspapers or looking at news websites," he said.

Pankhurst said the views of victims of suicide should have been included in the ministerial report."There's still a reluctance – a fear even – to be challenged on this matter," he said.

The chief coroner said yesterday he would "possibly" issue a practice note to guide coroners about when to release information on self-inflicted deaths.

When deciding what information to release, the views of family members were important, he said.

The Press