Coroner, media 'increasing risk'

The chief coroner and the media are increasing the risk of suicide in New Zealand, researchers say.

A New Zealand Medical Journal editorial, written by former Christchurch-based academic Annette Beautrais and David Fergusson, of the University of Otago, Christchurch, said media guidelines on the reporting of suicides could lead to more deaths.

They said international research suggested the risk of copycat behaviour increased if media coverage was prominent, repetitive or placed "celebrity status" on the person who died by suicide.

In 2010, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne consulted the media on the new suicide reporting guidelines to replace the 1999 set.

Under current guidelines, the media can report the name and age of the person, where they died and the fact the death was self-inflicted once a coroner's report has been released. The method of suicide cannot be reported.

Beautrais and Fergusson said suicide researchers thought the guidelines were "a weak, diluted interpretation of the evidence on the adverse effects of media reporting".

"While it is sometimes argued that media publicity is beneficial in that it brings an important social and health issue to public attention, there is, in fact, no evidence that this form of publication or dissemination does good."

They said journalists reading the guidelines, found on the Health Ministry website, would "gain the impression that the risks of media publicity are negligible".

"The appropriate advice to media is that any reporting of suicidal behaviours . . . needs to be presented in a muted and cautious way to avoid risks of further media- induced suicidal behaviours."

They said Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean had made "multiple calls" for more open reporting of suicide, but coroners' findings had "ignored or denied evidence of imitative suicide".


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