Clauses Noted: 5
Publication: Daily Sport
Mr Dougie Paterson of Choose Life, NHS Health Scotland, complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined 'The top yourself 10' published in the Daily Sport on 30 May 2008 contained excessive detail about the methods used in suicide in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Code of Practice.
The complaint was upheld.
The article was a list - following the British Transport Police's release of information that a stretch of railway line had claimed 25 lives in 3 years - of the 10 most popular 'suicide hotspots' in the United Kingdom. The complainant said that the newspaper had provided unnecessary detail which might encourage vulnerable people to visit the places shown and take their own lives. As such, the article was highly irresponsible.
The newspaper said that it was fully aware of the seriousness and sensitivity surrounding mental health issues. It considered that the article was a fair and balanced factual report in the public interest, based on information in the public domain.
Clause 5 (ii) of the Code states that 'when reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used'. The purpose of this Clause is to prevent the publication of unnecessary information which might encourage 'copycat' suicides.
The Commission firstly made clear that references to the whereabouts of individual suicides in the context of a newsworthy event - such as an inquest report - are generally acceptable under the Code. Additionally, the Code does not seek to prevent a newspaper reporting on the general subject of suicide, or investigating a pattern of suicides, in a manner that serves the public interest.
The problem with this case was that it was an entirely gratuitous guide to where individuals have killed themselves, and explicitly pointed out to people that there were a number of options about how and where to attempt suicide. This was clearly excessive in the context. The Commission was also concerned that the light-hearted presentation of the piece - which referred, for instance, to one bridge as being a 'well-known favourite for Britain's top-yourself tourists' - may have glamorised suicide in the eyes of some readers. As the Code is designed to minimise the chances of imitative suicides, this was a further breach of the Code.
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