Responding to media requests


Be prepared
Deciding whether to participate
Responding to media requests
Approach for adverse events
Responding to media coverage
 

 

Key things to remember when responding to media requests:

  • Make sure you are familiar with your organisation’s media policy;
  • Identify in advance, the ways you will work with the media, the messages you want to communicate and who your spokespeople will be;
  • Find out as much as you can about the story before deciding whether or not to participate;
  • Negotiate time to make a considered response;
  • Ensure media spokespeople are available and have been fully briefed;
  • Make sure all responses are consistent with the Mindframe principles;
  • Remember stories about adverse events may still provide opportunities for education and the inclusion of promotion and prevention information and helpline numbers.

MHS IconBe prepared

It is important to plan ahead. The media often work to short deadlines so in most cases there will be little time available when a request comes. Being prepared to respond to media requests will include:

  • Making sure your organisation has a media policy in place that is consistent with the principles of Mindframe, and that you are familiar with its contents;
  • Being clear about the messages you want to communicate;
  • Identifying ways in which you or your organisation will work with the media;
  • Making sure that your organisation has identified media spokespeople and relevant people know who they are and how they can be contacted.

MHS IconDecide whether to participate in a story

When approached by the media to participate in a story, find out as much as you can about the story before making a decision. Questions to ask the approaching media professional may include:

  • Who is the journalist?
  • What is their knowledge/opinion of the issue?
  • Who else are they speaking to?
  • Who do they want to interview?
  • When do they want to do the interview?
  • What is the story about?
  • What is the reason for the story?
  • What information will be required?
  • What types of questions will be asked?
  • Is the story for radio, television or print media?
  • Is it for a news story, feature or other?
  • Will pictures/video be required?
  • When will the story be published or broadcast?

When deciding whether or not to participate in a story, consider the following:

  • Check your organisation’s media policy before responding to any media request;
  • Does the issue fit within your organisation’s area of expertise and the subjects on which it is able to provide comment?
  • Are you the best person or organisation to respond to this request or could you refer the journalist to a more appropriate contact?
  • If other people or organisations are providing a response, evaluate whether your response will add to the story in question;
  • Is the media organisation one that you would naturally work with? For example, small local organisations may choose to work primarily with local media whereas large national organisations may prefer to be involved with nationally focused media;
  • Are you able to provide the spokespeople or information in the timeframe specified?

Remember to consider Mindframe principles when deciding whether to participate in a story:

  • Avoid engaging in repetitive or prominent reporting of suicide;
  • Think about whether the story is likely to have benefits for the community by providing suicide prevention or mental health promotion information or encouraging help-seeking behaviour;
  • Question what the impact of not participating in the story might be;
  • Even negative stories may provide the opportunity for education or inclusion of promotion and prevention messages. 

MHS IconResponding to media requests

It is important that organisations and individuals provide a timely and considered response to media requests. Some considerations will include the following:

  • Ask the journalist for a deadline and make sure you respond within this timeframe, even if it’s to say that you can’t give a full response but one is being prepared;
  • Be clear about your organisation’s agreed message and organisational position relevant to the story in question;
  • Determine who the best person to speak to the media is. Is there an identified media spokesperson in the organisation?
  • Prepare media spokespeople or yourself for interview -  see the section on Interviews in the Media tools section of this website;  
  • Promote the Mindframe resources to media professionals who contact you and suggest they access the Mindframe for media professionals section of this website.

Your aim should be to assist the media professional to produce the most accurate and responsible information in line with best practice reporting on suicide and mental illness.


MHS IconApproach for adverse events

Often the media approach people involved in mental health in the context of adverse events. Approaches may relate to events or issues directly involving the individual or organisation. For example, an area health service may be approached following the suicide death of a patient in the hospital.

Alternatively, approaches may relate to issues or events not directly involving the individual or organisation. For example a psychologist may be approached to comment on the mental health needs of individuals fleeing war zones in the context of inadequate services in immigration detention centres.

 

When the adverse event directly involves you or your organisation

  • Being prepared is particularly important. Without appropriate planning and policy development you may be unaware of how to respond in these situations.
  • Where there is a media relations officer or unit, all communication from the media should be referred to this department and no response should be made without authorisation.
  • Negotiate adequate time to develop an organised response.
  • Identify and use only one spokesperson but make sure they can be available.
  • Ensure media spokespeople are fully briefed.
  • Be clear about your organisation’s policies about issues such as disclosure.

The way in which you respond (or do not respond) to a request may not only reflect on your organisation, but may also have an impact on mental health issues and mental health care more broadly.

  • The way an organisation communicates in a crisis may significantly influence the way the event is responded to and its impact on the organisation and the wider community. For example, your inability to respond in an appropriate way may damage the reputation of your organisation and may also reduce community ‘trust’ in the mental health system as a whole.
  • One approach to effectively manage an adverse event may be to take the upper hand and inform the media, taking the opportunity to give accurate information along with suggestions for reporting the incident in line with the Mindframe principles. In some cases this may be a better approach than waiting until the media find out from other sources, who may give inaccurate or biased information.
  • ‘No comment’ may not be the best response when dealing with adverse events. Consider using the media request as an opportunity to influence the content of the story and remember if you do not respond the story will probably still go ahead, perhaps with information from less reliable sources.
  • Remember, even negative stories can provide opportunities for education and the inclusion of promotion and prevention information. At the very least you can provide help-seeking information.

Example: Responding to media approaches about an adverse event that directly affects your service

A mental health facility is approached by the media to provide information for a story on the recent death by suicide of one of their inpatients. While the mental health facility in question would undoubtedly prefer that the story was not reported, this is the type of story that the media would view as being in the public interest and are likely to report, with or without cooperation.

By agreeing to participate, the mental health facility can help to ensure that the report is based on accurate information, includes a suicide prevention message and is consistent with the Mindframe principles.

The facility may or may not want to provide someone for interview but it might consider making some contact through the media unit. The media manager or spokesperson from the mental health facility might consider the following when talking to the media about this issue:

  • Discuss the importance of not reporting the details of the method;
  • Encourage the inclusion of helpline and local health service referral numbers for those who may be affected by the report;
  • Discuss the language used in the report and emphasise the need to avoid language that glamorises suicide or presents it as normal or a way to deal with problems, for example the term ‘successful suicide’;
  • Place the story in context, by comparing with the numbers of people who access the service each year;
  • Emphasise that hospital may still be the safest place for people who are at risk of taking their own life and it is important that the story does not discourage these people from accessing services;
  • Urge caution if the media professional is planning to approach people who may have been bereaved by the person’s death, explaining that these individuals may be quite vulnerable;
  • Explain why staff may not be in a position to provide comment, for example they may be bereaved themselves if they knew the person, or may be restricted by service policies;
  • Provide information about risk factors and warning signs for suicide;
  • Refer the media professional to the Mindframe for media professionals section of this website.

When the event does not directly involve you or your organisation

  • Disasters or distressing events widely reported in the media may provide the opportunity to include information aimed at mental health promotion, combating stigma or encouraging help-seeking behaviour. For example, overseas events such as the 2011 tsunami may provide the opportunity to discuss the mental health implications of trauma for people from diverse backgrounds and promote information available in a range of languages dealing with stress, grief, loss or bereavement.
  • You may also be asked to provide comment or information for a story about an adverse event involving someone with mental illness or a death by suicide that is not directly related to your service. While you may not be in a position to comment on the specific case you may, through your involvement, support the consideration of the Mindframe principles and the inclusion of promotion and prevention information.
  • Be prepared and be clear about the message you want to communicate.
  • It may be beneficial to work with other mental health organisations.

Example: Responding to media approaches about an adverse event that does not directly involve your organisation

You are approached by a media professional to provide comment and background information for a story about an assault committed by an individual whom the police identified as having schizophrenia. The individual in question is not known to your service.

You consider the story will probably be run with or without your contribution but that by participating you may be able to support a story that is based on accurate information and consistent with the Mindframe principles. Issues to consider when talking to the media in this situation include:

  • Question the reliability of the information regarding the persons diagnosis and suggest that this information should not be included if it is not verified by an appropriate source;
  • Question whether the person's mental illness is known to be relevant to the story. That is, just because someone has mental illness and committed an assault doesn't mean that the assault has anything to do with the mental illness;
  • Discuss the possible negative implications of including this information in a media report, particularly if it is untrue or irrelevant;
  • Ensure that if the mental illness is reported, that the language used does not imply that the behaviour is indicative of all people with that disorder: i.e. that it does not suggest that all people with schizophrenia are violent;
  • Provide factual information about the association between mental illness and violence and balancing information regarding other risk factors for violent behaviour;
  • Encourage the inclusion of helpline numbers and information about treatment options;
  • Refer the media professional to the Mindframe for media professionals section of this website.  

MHS IconResponding to media coverage

When reporting issues around suicide and mental illness, the media don't always get it right. It is helpful to attempt to discuss the issues with those involved, preferably in a proactive and cooperative manner. There are a number of possible strategies for responding to inaccurate or inappropriate reporting. Consider what type of response is most appropriate for each circumstance.

  • Send a report to SANE’s StigmaWatch program.
  • Contact your Public Affairs or Media Relations Unit and request that they contact the journalist or organisation involved. They may have an existing relationship with the newspaper or station and may get a better response. Provide a list of your concerns in order to support this contact.
  • If you are a large organisation or professional body consider issuing a countering media release.
  • If you don’t have a media unit, contact the person involved (reporter) directly. Highlight your concerns, let them know about the potential impact of the story and try to identify how you can work together to produce a better story.
  • Ask the media professional concerned to view the material in the Mindframe for media professionals section of this website and contact the Mindframe project team if they have any questions or would like to request a briefing for staff at their organisation.
  • Write a letter to the editor for publication. This is an expedient way to present an alternative view.
  • Consider countering the negative story by pitching a positive story about the issue to the organisation or a rival organisation.
  • You can submit a formal complaint to the peak media body representing that particular organisation if it in some way breaches one of their codes of practice. For print media this can be done through the Australian Press Council and for broadcast media you can contact the Australian Communications and Media Authority. All codes of practice can be viewed online or by contacting the relevant authority.

Remember, feedback doesn’t always have to be negative – consider giving positive feedback for examples of good reporting.

  • Send examples of good reporting to StigmaWatch for posting on the ‘good news’ section.
  • Contact the media professional responsible and congratulate them on a good job.
  • Give specific feedback regarding the positive aspects of the story. This will assist the media professional involved to include these features in future stories on mental illness and suicide.
  • Enter the story in media awards, e.g. Suicide Prevention Australia’s LiFE Awards, The Mental Health Service Awards or local media awards.