Media industry codes
Click on the links below for quick access to the information on this page.
- Australian Press Council (APC)
- The Age
- FreeTV Australia
- Commercial Radio Australia (CRA)
- Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA)
- Community Broadcasting Association of Australia
- Australian Subscription Televsion & Radio Association (ASTRA)
- Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA)
- The Autralian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
- The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS)
- Australian Recording Industry Association Limited (ARIA)
Most media sectors have codes on reporting and portrayal of suicide. While some also mention reporting and portrayal of mental or intellectual disability, mental illness is not always specified.
The APC released revised reporting guidelines on suicide in August 2011. The guidelines refer to the Mindframe National Media Initiative as a source of information and resources for the reporting of suicide. The APC calls on the press to continue exercising care and responsibility in reporting suicide and mental illness.
The Council's specific standards regarding reporting and discussion of suicide are:
1. General reporting and comment on issues relating to suicide can be of substantial public benefit. For example, it may help to improve public understanding of causes and warning signs, have a deterrent effect on people contemplating suicide, bring comfort to affected relatives or friends, or promote further public or private action to prevent suicide;
2. Subject to careful compliance with the following standards, the Council does not wish to discourage material of this nature. Extra caution is required when the material is likely to be read or seen by people who may be especially vulnerable (e.g. because of their age or mental health) and relates to suicides by their peers or by celebrities.
Whether to report an individual instance
3. In deciding whether to report an individual instance of suicide, consideration should be given to whether at least one of the following criteria is satisfied:
(a) reporting the death as suicide is clearly in the public interest; or
(b) clear and informed consent has been provided by appropriate relatives or close friends; or
(c) no appropriate authority (such as the police, a school principal or public health authority) has requested that the report be withheld or delayed to avoid a high risk of inducing further suicides.
4. In deciding whether also to report the identity of the person who has died by suicide, account should be taken of whether at least one of the following criteria is satisfied:
(a) identification is clearly in the public interest; or
(b) clear and informed consent has been provided by appropriate relatives or close friends.
Reporting the method and location
5. The method and location of a suicide should not be described in detail (e.g. a particular drug or cliff) unless the public interest in doing so clearly outweighs the risk, if any, of causing further suicides. This applies especially to methods or locations which may not be well known by people contemplating suicide.
Reporting with responsibility and balance
6. Reports should not sensationalise, glamorise or trivialise suicides. They should not inappropriately stigmatise suicides or people involved in them but this does not preclude responsible description or discussion of the impacts, even if they are severely adverse, on people, organisations or communities. Where appropriate, underlying causes such as mental illness should be mentioned.
Reporting with sensitivity and moderation
7. Reports should not be given undue prominence, especially by unnecessarily explicit headlines or images. Great care should be taken to avoid causing unnecessary harm or hurt to people who have attempted suicide or to relatives and other people who have been affected by a suicide or attempted suicide. This requires special sensitivity and moderation in both gathering and reporting.
Sources of assistance
8. Published material relating to suicide should be accompanied by information about appropriate 24-hour crisis support services or other sources of assistance with these problems (see note 6). The degree of specificity may vary according to the nature of the report and the surrounding circumstances.
The Press Council encourages responsible approaches to the reporting of suicide and mental illness, and consultation with reputable associations, research centres, counselling services and health authorities when seeking comment for articles on these issues (http://www.presscouncil.org.au/).
Whilst Fairfax do not specify the reporting of suicide within the Code of Conduct, The Age sets out a Code of Conduct for all editorial employees which states:
The Age will not publish individual cases of suicide, unless issues of public safety or the wider public interest justify it. Care should be taken when reporting methods of suicide and, wherever possible, public information on where to gain help must accompany such reports.
As of 2005, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has taken over the role of the Australian Broadcasting Authority. This role is to help the television, radio and Internet industries develop codes of practice relating to content and complaints handling, and investigates complaints about inappropriate content on broadcasting services and the Internet. Industry codes and standards are registered with the ACMA (http://www.acma.gov.au/Industry/Broadcast/Community-radio-and-TV/Codes-of-practice-and-compliance)
The 2010 code of practice provides that:
- Realistic depiction of methods of suicide, or promotion or encouragement of suicide is recognised under code 2.17.5 as a category indicating material that will invariably be unsuitable for television.
For Children's (G) Hours (6.00am to 8.30am and 4.00pm to 7.30pm weekdays and 6.00am to 7.30pm at weekends):
- Only limited and careful verbal reference to suicide is acceptable, and only where there is an identifiable public interest reason to do so, and should exclude any detailed description of the method used. The report must be straightforward and must not include graphic details or images, or glamourise suicide in any way.
For Parental Guidance (PG) classification:
- Visual depiction of and verbal reference to suicide or attempted suicide must be inexplicit and restrained, and be mild in impact. It must not be presented as the means of achieving a desired result or as an appropriate response to stress, depression or other problems.
For late night (MA-AV) timeslots (9.30pm to 5am):
- Methods of suicide should not be shown in realistic detail. The program must not promote or encourage suicide.
Commercial Radio Australia Ltd
In its 2011 code of practice the commercial radio industry provides that:
- A licensee must not broadcast a program which depicts suicide favourably or as a means of achieving a desired result, or which is likely to incite or perpetuate hatred against or vilify any person or group on the basis of ... mental disability.
The 2011 code of practice also included guidelines and explanatory notes on the portrayal of suicide and mental illness on commercial radio. These guidelines outline that stations should avoid depicting suicide favourably or presenting it as a means of achieving a desired result by:
- Checking that the language used does not glamorise or sensationalise suicide, or present suicide as a solution to problems;
- Avoiding an approach which glamorises or sensationalises celebrity suicide; and
- Excluding detailed descriptions about method of suicide.
The guidelines further state that licensees should avoid broadcasting a program that stigmatises or vilifies people in the community who are living with a mental illness by:
- Avoiding the use of certain derogatory terminology; and
- Remembering that people with a mental illness are not inherently violent, unable to work, weak or unable to get well.
Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA)
The AANA code of ethics does not specifically address suicide and mental illness.
Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA)
The 2008 code of practice states that general programming will not broadcast any material that may:
- glamorise, sensationalise, or present suicide as a solution to life problems. In particular, broadcast material should not provide explicit details about the method and/or location of a suicide attempt or death.
The code also includes an appendix guide for resources available for reporting suicide and mental illness responsibly; including reference to the Mindframe Media and Mental Health project.
Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA)
The 2007 ASTRA codes of practice state that in broadcasting news and current affairs programs; ‘to the extent practicable licensees will only broadcast reports of suicide or attempted suicide where there is an identifiable public interest to do so, and will exclude any detailed description of the method used and any graphic details and will not glamorise suicide in any way’.
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA)
The Australian Journalism Association code of ethics says that journalists should respect private grief and personal privacy and never exploit a person's vulnerability or ignorance of media practice. Interviews should only be conducted with the informed consent of the interviewee.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
In its 2011 code of practice, the ABC does not specifically mention suicide; rather the 2012 editorial policies states that:
- As an issue, the ABC covers suicide and self-harm when we think, based on the information available and the research we have done, that it is an editorially relevant and significant issue that requires discussion and coverage.
- This might be because it is prevalent, particularly in an “at risk” sector of the community, or in a particular place or at a particular time; or that there are important issues relating to the way the community is dealing with the issue, including levels of funding and support, new research, new approaches or the questioning of old research or existing approaches. There might also be a significant contribution from an individual, a group or a specific case study that can assist in understanding the issue.
- As a newsworthy event, we cover it when other elements of the story are sufficiently newsworthy to justify coverage. In other words, we do not report on an individual suicide just because it is a suicide. On the other hand, if it is significant that a specific individual has died, then we would report it and not shy away from the fact that it was suicide. The suicide of a celebrity should not be romanticised or glamorised. If a particular suicide has other newsworthy aspects to it such as major disruption to the broader community or a highly visible event that caused broader impact and trauma, we would report it on that basis.
- Every time we report on suicide, whether as a broader issue or as a specific event, we are mindful of the potential impact on the audience, and of the specific risk of prompting copycat episodes.
- Be cautious about any coverage that risks portraying suicide in a glamorous way, or condones suicide as a solution to a problem.
- We report on specific methods and locations only when there is strong editorial justification for doing so.
- We normally accompany our content with information about support and advice available for those who may need it – Lifeline, Kids Helpline, etc.
The ABC did a review of their guidance note on Suicide and Self-Harm at the end of 2015. This Guidance Note, authorised by the Managing Director, is provided to assist interpretation of the Editorial Policies to which the Guidance Notes relates. The Editorial Policies contain the standards enforceable under the ABC‟s internal management processes and under the ABC's complaints-handling procedures.
You can access the guidance note here http://about.abc.net.au/reports-publications/suicide-and-self-harm-guidance-note/
The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS)
The 2014 (incorporating amendments in 2015) Codes of Practice for General Programming contains sections relating to both mental illness and suicide.
In relation to mental illness, under section 1.3 (Prejudice, racism and discrimination) SBS provides that:
- SBS seeks to counter attitudes of prejudice against any person or group on the basis of their race, colour, ethnicity, nationality, sex, age, sexual preference, gender identity, religion, disability, mental illness, or marital, parental or occupational status.
In relation to suicide SBS has two codes that mention suicide, specifically:
- 1.7 SUICIDE
Suicide is a legitimate subject for content but one that should be portrayed with a high degree of sensitivity.
Care should be taken to avoid describing or showing methods of suicide in great detail.
Program makers should be alert to the dangers of making such behaviour attractive to the vulnerable.
Where methods are described, program makers should have regard to context and editorial requirements.
- 2.3 VIOLENCE AND DISTRESSING EVENTS IN NEWS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS
The decision to broadcast or publish violent images or sounds is based on their newsworthiness, together with proper regard for the reasonable susceptibilities of audiences to the detail of what is broadcast or published. SBS will not sensationalise violent events or present them for their own sake. Where appropriate, news segments will be preceded by a warning indicating that some viewers or listeners may find the material distressing.
Given that the timing and content of newsflashes are unpredictable, care should be exercised in the selection of sounds and images, and consideration given to the likely composition of the audience. News updates and news promotions which portray elements of violence should generally not be scheduled during content directed at young children. SBS avoids sensationalised and exaggerated treatment of news events. In covering murders, traumas, accidents, funerals, suicides and disasters, SBS expects its program makers to exercise great sensitivity, particularly when approaching, interviewing and portraying people who are distressed.
Australian Record Industry Association Limited (ARIA)
The ARIA code of practice for labelling products with explicit or potentially offensive lyrics provides that albums which give instructions on how to commit suicide shall be refused classification and are not permitted to be sold.
A number of international agencies - including media, suicide prevention and mental health bodies - have developed guidelines for media reporting. Many of these international guidelines are available from the International Association for Suicide Prevention website (http://www.iasp.info/media_guidelines.php).