Suicide reporting guidelines 'confusing'

Last updated 17:37 01/04/2014

Suicide reporting

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The Law Commission has recommended a relaxation in the reporting of suicide by the media, but talking about the method of death is still off limits.

A review conducted at the request of the Government has found the rules about how the media report on suicides were unclear and confusing.

Commission president Sir Grant Hammond said extensive consultation with interested parties had shown the topic was divisive.

The law was unclear about the level of detail that could be reported and in some cases had inhibited positive, open discussion about suicide in New Zealand, which he described as a "scourge" on the country.

But a large body of international research had shown that allowing the reporting of the method of suicide was detrimental and encouraged copycat deaths.

The commission has suggested media be allowed to immediately report a death as a suspected suicide where the facts supported that.

While the method of death was off limits, media could apply to the chief coroner for an exemption if there was a large public interest.

The restriction applied to anyone reporting the details of a suicide death, including traditional media, blogs and members of the public using social media.

If the rules were broken, prosecution was an option, Hammond said.

The commission also recommended the health minister prepare a new set of voluntary standards for reporting suicide that governed good taste.

"By and large the media's been responsible in New Zealand. If you look at overseas, there's some appalling stuff that gets on the front page of some newspapers and other places."

This should also guide media in their reporting of overseas suicides, which were not bound by law.

Hammond said it was not appropriate to bring overseas suicides under legislation as international media reports could be accessed easily by the New Zealand public.

Courts Minister Chester Borrows and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne issued a press release welcoming the report, with the Government to consider and respond to the recommendations by September.

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