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Editor's comment: Why we broke rules on suicide

PUBLISHED: 16:48 07 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:49 07 August 2019

The new fencing at Archway Bridge, which also has security workers. Picture: @Block100AFC

The new fencing at Archway Bridge, which also has security workers. Picture: @Block100AFC

Archant

There are rules governing what the press should and shouldn't report about suicide.

Guidance from media watchdog the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) is that we should "avoid excessive detail" about the method someone uses to kill themselves, to lessen the risk of copycat cases.

The Samaritans go further in their guide for journalists: "Don't label locations as 'hot spots'. [...] Refrain from positioning a story too prominently, for example on a front page or as a lead bulletin. [...] Try not to illustrate a report with specific locations, such as a bridge or cliff, especially if this is a place where people frequently take their own lives."

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It's because people at risk of suicide are often suggestible. But anyone paying attention to our coverage of Archway Bridge - whose colloquial local name we have chosen never to print - will have noticed that we have at various points broken all these rules repeatedly, often in a single report. Why?

Fact is, as the Samaritans and IPSO point out, we play a part in preventing suicide through the way we report existing cases - but so do the authorities who took 18 years to put up a fence. So does anyone who formally objects to plans for anti-suicide measures because of the way they look.

We didn't want to keep drawing attention to the fact the bridge was a high-risk spot, but it would have been tough to hold people to account, and to campaign for the bridge to be made safe, without doing so. In this case, we deemed that the greater good needed us to break some of those rules.

Another feature I considered was the involvement of bereaved families in the safety campaign. We had a responsibility to give them a voice, too.

IPSO recognises that the public interest will sometimes override certain clauses in its code of practice - including the one about suicide. But that's the exception. So if you ever notice we've not included much detail in a report of someone's death, or wondered why we've never used the bridge's nickname, now you know.

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