December 4, 2008

Dr John Connolly: newspapers should stick to the facts
Dr John Connolly: newspapers should stick to the facts


SOME OF the media coverage of murder-suicides in recent years has been a "disgrace", an expert on suicide has said.

Dr John Connolly, a founder member of the Irish Association of Suicidology and a psychiatrist by profession, said that some of the tabloid coverage of cases in Wexford had been gratuitous and lurid and made a tragedy even worse.

Dr Connolly, who was speaking at a conference on media coverage of suicide in Portlaoise last night, organised by the Press Council of Ireland, contrasted coverage of Sharon Grace who drowned herself and her two children and that of Adrian Dunne who is suspected of killing himself, his wife and their two children and the similar case of businessman Diarmuid Flood, who is believed to have killed his wife and two children and then himself.

He said: "There is the bias in the way these events are reported depending on the gender of the perpetrator. For men in some elements of the media, the lurid headlines read 'crazed evil dad butchers his children' as opposed to 'distraught mother kills her children and ends her life'.

"Both men and women in this situation are equally deserving of our sympathy and the vast majority of people involved are shown to have been suffering from some psychiatric problem at the time of their deaths," he said.

The council issued a discussion document this week in relation to the reporting of suicide in the media.

The council has recommended that suicides be reported in non-sensationalist language and that nothing should be done to romanticise or glorify it.

Dr Connolly, whose family owns the Connacht Telegraph in Co Mayo, said that it was important for the press to realise there was a scientific basis as a result of multiple studies to the belief that news coverage of suicides in itself causes suicide. Responsible coverage could mitigate that risk, he said.

He recommended that newspapers should "stick to the facts, not indulge in simplistic explanations and be mindful that graphic descriptions of how somebody took their own lives can lead to copycat suicide".

The coroner for east Mayo, Pat O'Connor, told the meeting that the media, in general have treated suicide deaths with "sympathy and understanding".

He said it was his experience that the media do in general adopt a "responsible, understanding and sympathetic approach to the reporting of such tragic events".

Mr O'Connor believed that guidelines on reporting of suicide were beneficial for journalists and reporters, but that they should not be "detailed or prescriptive".