By Gabriel Princewill
The Northampton Chronicle and Echo’s reckless and insensitive reporting of a suicide victim is to be further scrutinised for the learning purpose of the paper and the public.
The Northampton Chronicle and Echo has been heavily criticised by IPSO for including excessive detail in a report about a woman’s suicide. The press regulator reprimanded the Northampton paper for its breach of Clause 5 of Ipso’s guidelines. However, The press regulator told The Eye Of Media.Com that the complaint and ruling against the paper came before Ipso published its most recent guidelines into how the press report stories involving suicides.
Ipso published its findings last August, but its stipulated guidelines on how the press are expected to report suicide stories had been outlined before the incident that led to a complaint about the paper by the sister of the deceased. It has been chosen for closer evaluation of why this error occurred at all.
Clause 5 of the Code states:
”When reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media’s right to report legal proceedings”. The paper failed to observe this section of the code, highlighting an inadvertent level of recklessness and insensitivity in its reporting of the story.
Coverage of the inquest into the woman’s death demonstrated no awareness of the reasonably set boundaries that been set to ensure reporters refrain from unprofessional reporting. The printed story included details of the substance taken by the victim, the amount she ingested, the ingredients with which she mixed the substance, how much it cost, the location of its purchase, and the amount that could be considered a lethal dose. It lacked prudence in every respect, leading to the important question of whether all journalists and Editors have actually read the code comprehensively, and if so; how much of its contents they have actually retained.
It further raises the question as to whether Editors should be required to test their journalists periodically about the code, or whether Editors should just take responsibility for their staff’s negligence or professional breach.The online article was headlined: “Northampton woman dies of caffeine overdose, inquest hears”, also described the woman’s 999 call expressing regret over her suicide attempt, the symptoms she experienced after the overdose and details of the treatment she received.
The paper went ahead to publish details of the family’s whereabouts at the time of her death, adding “extensive comments” from the coroner were also included, IPSO ruling said. The woman’s sister-in-law Kate Dayman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation about the article, published on 14 March 2018, pointing out its breach of the IPSO Editors’ Code rules on reporting suicide, privacy and intrusion into grief and shock.
Dayman intimated her particularly concern about the details of her sister-in-law’s suicide attempt, because information about the “relatively unknown method” was difficult to find elsewhere. The upshot of her complaint was that the article was effectively increasing the knowledge potential future suicide victims to to understand how to reproduce such a process if ever they wanted to end their own lives.
Her grieving sibling also said that reporting details of the circumstance around her death given during the inquest – including the woman’s symptoms, details of the families movements and the woman’s relationship and employment status. These were all in breach of Clause 2 (privacy) and Clause 4 (intrusion into grief or shock) of the IPSO Editors’ Code. The paper obviously had no such intention, but the manner 0f its reporting failed to safeguard the interest of individuals who are suicidal and who may be exploring methods of ending their lives.
Northampton Chronicle and Echo conceded the breach of Clause 5 (reporting of suicide), adding that its local news team “initially thought that this detail would serve as a warning to others, but fully understood that this was mistaken”. Why was the mistake made, when the warning is clear in print? The short answer is that many publications have either not taken time to study Ipso’s codes of conduct, or although their editor may have studied it, They haven’t properly grasped every facet of the guidelines, or have put somebody in charge at the time of the breach, who wasn’t well grounded in its rules.
Although the local paper removed the article from its website within 24 hours after being contacted by the charity Samaritans, the damage may well have been done by then. The paper said steps were taken to improve staff understanding of suicide reporting rules.
It offered to publish a public apology to the family and tribute to the woman with full copy approval – but denied any breach of Clause 2 and 4, arguing that all details included in the article were made at a public inquest and were reported without sensation.
IPSO ruled that the article breached Clause 5 but not Clauses 2 or 4. The regulator said: “The purpose of Clause 5 is to prevent the publication of material which might lead to imitative acts. “The article had provided extensive details regarding the method of suicide the woman had used, as outlined above.
“The committee was concerned that this level of detail had been included, and the details included were sufficient to support an individual, in a number of ways, in engaging in a simulative act.
“This was concerning when the article related to a relatively unusual method of suicide, as there was a risk of increasing the awareness of this method among the population.” The IPSO Code Committee said it was “reassured by the publication’s response to the complaint”, the regulator ruled that Northampton Chronicle and Echo would have to publish its adjudication and keep it within the top five articles on its homepage for 24 hours.
A separate complaint was put into IPSO about the Gloucestershire Echo report on the inquest into the woman’s death, arguing that it too had breached Clauses 2, 4 and 5 in its article. IPSO found no breach of Clauses 2 and 4 because the inquest was public and all reporting was factual.
It also found the Gloucestershire Echo did not breach rules on reporting suicide as it had only included details of the substance she took and the concentration of it in her blood, and not in excessive detail. The Northampton Chronicle has to ask itself why it was not aware of Clause 5 or why the avoidable mistake happened. It must take steps to prevent a recurrence