Observations Medicine and the Media

Can media depictions of suicide influence copycat acts?

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c5067 (Published 29 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5067
  1. Jane Parry, freelance medical journalist, Hong Kong
  1. jeparry{at}netvigator.com

Despite the mountain of evidence supporting best practice, responsible media reporting on suicide is far from the norm in Hong Kong, and it is having serious consequences, writes Jane Parry

The Oriental Daily News: a departure in the coverage of suicide

Hong Kong’s print media have never shied away from using gruesome images to illustrate its news reports, but when Oriental Daily News, one of the city’s major circulation newspapers, covered a case of suicide in November 1998 it broke new ground.

A quarter page photograph showed the prone corpse of a 35 year old woman who had committed suicide. There was another photograph too, showing a barbecue grill, incongruously positioned in the tiny bathroom near where she died. The grill contained the lumps of charcoal that she had burned to raise the carbon monoxide in the air to a fatal level, easy to achieve in the small rooms characteristic of Hong Kong apartments.

This was one of the first known cases of suicide by charcoal burning in Hong Kong and the first time the method had been given such sensationalist media coverage. In the following weeks several more cases occurred. A …

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