July 22, 2009


MEDIA COVERAGE of the Monageer inquiry report earlier this year showed “significant breaches” of reporting guidelines on suicide, a forum hosted by the Health Service Executive (HSE) heard yesterday.

With the publication last May of the Monageer inquiry report into the deaths of Adrian Dunne, his partner Ciara O’Brien and their two children in Wexford two years earlier, journalists covering the findings were asked to adhere to guidelines produced by the Irish Association of Suicidology and the Samaritans.

However, Geoff Day, director of the HSE’s National Office of Suicide Prevention, said a study of 58 newspaper articles on the report showed “significant breaches” of the guidelines.

These included the printing of detailed information about the incident and a failure to include contact information for support services.

“The issue is finding a balance between sensitive and responsible reporting and what we might call sensational portrayal,” Mr Day said. While acknowledging that there was a significant public interest in the story, he pointed out that five papers gave explicit detail of the method, six carried the story on the front page, 11 printed imagery of the family and there were “significant sensational headlines” in others.

“Most articles applied overly simplistic explanations for the event rather than acknowledging the complexities of the case,” he added.

Only The Irish Times and irishhealth.com included details of support agencies in their reports.

Addressing journalists at yesterday’s forum, Dr John Connolly, secretary of the Irish Association of Suicidology, said imitative or “copycat” suicide and suicide clusters were a reality and that media reporting had an important role in saving lives.

For example, in the week following an episode of the BBC drama Casualty , which included a storyline about an overdose, rates of self-poisoning in the UK increased by 17 per cent.

By contrast, a study following the death of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain found there was no overall increase in suicide rates in his hometown of Seattle, largely as a result of a close collaboration between media and authorities to ensure appropriate reporting took place.

“Robust research exists showing that there is an association between certain types of media reporting and portrayal of suicide and copycat suicide. Research also shows that reporting of suicide in keeping with the guidelines . . . can lessen that impact,” Dr Connolly added.

Jane Arigho of Headline, a media-monitoring programme for mental health and suicide, told the forum that those most affected by “copycat” behaviour seemed to be people under the age of 24 and the elderly.

New media guidelines for reporting suicide are due to be published later this year.

The Samaritans can be contacted 24 hours a day at 1850 609090

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times