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Media Coverage of Suicide: Comparative Analysis

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Abstract

Media coverage of suicide is problematic because it is an emotional issue, involving loss of human life. Reports of suicides can intrude on individuals’ privacy and contribute to the sense of trauma, shock, and horror shared by the individual’s loved ones. It might also be contagious, negatively affecting the shaky state of mind of people in emotional crisis. A study conducted in Great Britain and the United States showed that suicide rates increased after a suicide story was published: the more publicity the story received, the greater the increase.1 Another study found that suicide rate increased after a television suicide story and that the increase in suicides lasted for about ten days after the report.2 In contrast, Phillips argued that the most effective channel of cultural contagion is newspapers. This is so because an individual can spend a great deal of time reading and rereading a newspaper story; consequently he or she can remain longer in contact with the contagious influence of the story and might be more readily affected by it.3 The most susceptible is the teenage population. Sociologists who conducted independent studies of suicide patterns found significant copycat correlations. Reports of teenage suicide appear to lead to outbreaks of other teenage suicides.4

Keywords

Public Interest Suicide Rate Medium Coverage Public Figure Assisted Suicide 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. B. Ziesenis, ‘Suicide Coverage in Newspapers: An Ethical Consideration’, Journal of Mass Media Ethics, Vol. 6, No. 4 (1991), pp. 234–44, esp. 235; Conrad C. Fink, Media Ethics (Boston, MA.: Allyn and Bacon, 1995), 2nd edn, p. 53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Nick Russell, Morals and the Media (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1995), p. 84; David P. Phillips and L. L. Carstensen, ‘The Effect of Suicide Stories on Various Demographic Groups, 1968–1985’, Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, Vol. 18 (Spring 1988), pp. 100–14; David P. Phillips and L. L. Carstensen, ‘Clustering of Teenage Suicides After Television News Stories about Suicide’, New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 315 (1986), pp. 685–9.Google Scholar
  3. Peter Buckley (ed.), CP Stylebook: A Guide for Writers and Editors (Toronto: the Canadian Press, 1997), p. 69.Google Scholar
  4. Margaret A. Somerville, ‘Euthanasia in the Media: Journalists’ Values, Media Ethics and “Public Square” Messages’, Humane Health Care International, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring 1997), pp. 17–20.Google Scholar
  5. Moshe Ronen, Media Ethics (Tel Aviv: Miskal, 1998), Vol. II, p. 682 (Hebrew).Google Scholar
  6. Gabriel Weimann and Gideon Fishman, ‘Reconstructing Suicide: Reporting Suicide in the Israeli Press’, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Vol. 72, No. 3 (1995), pp. 553–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gideon Fishman and Gabriel Weimann, ‘Motives to Commit Suicide: Statistical versus Mass-Mediated Reality’, Archives of Suicide Research, Vol. 3 (1997), pp. 199–212, esp. 209; G. Weimann and G. Fishman, ‘Reconstructing Suicide: Reporting Suicide in the Israeli Press’, p. 555.Google Scholar
  8. Ronald Dworkin, ‘Liberalism’, in A Matter of Principle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), pp. 181–204; idem, Taking Rights Seriously (London: Duckworth, 1976); Raphael Cohen-Almagor, ‘Between Neutrality and Perfectionism’, The Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. VII, No. 2 (1994), pp. 217–36. idem (ed.), Liberal Democracy and the Limits of Tolerance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000).Google Scholar

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© Raphael Cohen-Almagor 2001

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