Issue must not be pushed under carpet, NUJ says

 

Journalists must guard against misguided actions that would serve to push the reality of suicide "under the carpet", Mr Seamus Dooley, Irish organiser of the National Union of Journalists, told the conference.

Addressing the role of the media in the coverage of suicide, he said that, by definition, it was dramatic and often carried out in bizarre circumstances. However, coverage must be responsible and not add to the suffering of those left behind. The NUJ was currently examining the need for guidelines in this area, he said.

Publication of the gory details of suicides did not serve the public interest, he told the conference. "I think The Irish Times policy of not publishing names is sensitive and has much to recommend it. But I strongly disapprove of the idea of in camera inquests or a policy of non-publication."

In local coverage of suicides, the publication of any detail would inevitably cause pain and embarrassment, he said, and it was impossible to legislate for coverage. "We can only place an onus on individual journalists to treat with respect those with whom they come into contact."

Irish newspapers did not traditionally intrude into private grief and distress, he said, although a real threat had come from the British tabloids. However, by far "the most scandalous invasion of privacy" in recent times was the publication by the Star newspaper of a picture of a body being taken from the Liffey.

Dr David Nowlan, managing editor of The Irish Times, said that insofar as there was an overriding philosophy or guide to the way in which suicide was covered in The Irish Times, it was that "an individual, regardless of fame or status, is a valued member of society, and when an individual chooses to leave the society, the remaining members of society should be made aware of that fact". The primary duty to society, he added, was to inform members of society about what was going on.

Dr Nowlan said there appeared to be general agreement from most expert sources that media coverage should try to create a climate of awareness of suicide and, if possible, some understanding of why it might happen, and try to provide the awareness and the understanding in a manner that might lead to its reduction, if not always its prevention. "I don't think that anyone working in the media in this country would strenuously disagree with these opinions, although they might voice dissent as to how best to achieve the desired end results."