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BRIEF RESEARCH ARTICLE
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 66  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 348-351  

Media reporting of suicide in the bengaluru E-edition of three major indian dailies: An archival study


1 Head, Public Health Division, Augmenta Health Private Limited, Bangalore, Karnataka, India
2 Additional Professor and Head, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
3 Former Dean, Behavioral Sciences and Head, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
4 Additional Professor, Department of Clinical Psychology, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
5 Assistant Professor, Department of Mental Health Education, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
6 Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatric Social Work, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission13-Mar-2022
Date of Decision08-Jun-2022
Date of Acceptance12-Jul-2022
Date of Web Publication22-Sep-2022

Correspondence Address:
Sharmitha Krishnamurthy
Augmenta Health Private Limited, #108, St Johns Road, Sivanachetty Garden P.O, Bengaluru - 560 042, Karnataka
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijph.ijph_372_22

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   Abstract 


India has the world's largest newspaper market, with over 100 million copies sold daily. The media scapegoat, simplify, speculate, and sensationalize suicide-related news instead of signposting people to seek help. Suicide affects individuals, families, and communities and is worthy of responsible reporting. This study examined the quality of newspaper coverage of suicides from January to December 2017 in three popular English dailies in Bengaluru, South India. Three hundred and ninety-five online suicide reports were evaluated for compliance with the 2017 WHO recommendations for responsible suicide reporting by media professionals. The secondary data were obtained from digital newspaper archives and analyzed. A handful of the sampled articles met key recommendations. While reporting on suicide in the Indian media, three critical areas that require the most attention are reducing sensationalism, providing help-seeking information, and educating the public on suicide prevention without perpetuating myths.

Keywords: Content analysis, media, reporting, secondary data, suicide


How to cite this article:
Krishnamurthy S, Meena KS, Chaturvedi SK, Kapanee AR, Krishnamurthy L, Cherian A. Media reporting of suicide in the bengaluru E-edition of three major indian dailies: An archival study. Indian J Public Health 2022;66:348-51

How to cite this URL:
Krishnamurthy S, Meena KS, Chaturvedi SK, Kapanee AR, Krishnamurthy L, Cherian A. Media reporting of suicide in the bengaluru E-edition of three major indian dailies: An archival study. Indian J Public Health [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 30];66:348-51. Available from: https://www.ijph.in/text.asp?2022/66/3/348/356611



Suicide is a gnawing global public health crisis because of the economic and human costs on individuals, families, communities, and society.[1] India has one of the world's highest suicide deaths.[2]

Suicide is typically a result of many reasons. Vulnerable and distressed individuals often think of ending their life by suicide. Mental health problems, life experiences, traumatic events, and family history all play a role. Poor media coverage is one blind spot. The media effects appear to be regulated by individual-level traits and the information delivered.[3] The sensational media portrayal of suicides can influence suicidal behavior in the vulnerable population.[4] It is postulated that narratives, when presented to particularly vulnerable individuals, will either activate existing cognitive biases or prime and disinhibit preprogrammed cognitive schemas so that they will precipitate the behavioral component of the social learning process.[5]

Cognition and emotions may not directly alter behavior but may increase vulnerability to future life stressors. According to Bandura's hypothesis, media exposure may lead to suicide through a sleeper effect or an implicit memory retention mechanism.[5] Depression, low self-esteem, and pessimism, all susceptible to the larger social climate, would boost social learning and eventually, imitation.[5]

The media guidelines save lives by encouraging accurate, responsible, and ethical reporting. They function as a compass, guiding media professionals in the proper direction, and providing a framework for responsible reporting on suicide.

The WHO reporting standards continue to be the primary reference document for media practitioners in most countries. There are challenges to reporting suicide in digital media and controlling potentially suicidal information online. The 2017 update to WHO Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals responds to these challenges.[6] This study evaluates newspaper reporting on “Completed Suicide” in three of the most extensively circulated local E-editions of English dailies in Bengaluru, South India, for compliance with WHO-recommended media professional standards. 2017 update on suicide reporting based on listings from January to December 2017.

It is an archival study supplemented by secondary data from the digital newspaper archives of three major Indian dailies' Bengaluru editions. Given that newspapers with low circulation frequently repost news from those with larger circulation, the three most influential newspapers in terms of circulation were evaluated. It also ensured that publishing bias, in the form of editorial policies, had a negligible or nonexistent effect. The NIMHANS Institute sub-ethics committee approved the study on January 31, 2018.

The sample time frame was January 1–December 31, 2017. The researcher retrieved available news item listings related to reporting incidents of completed suicide meeting the following criteria:

  1. Published online between January 1 and December 31, 2017, in the Bengaluru E-edition of P1, P2, and P3
  2. Reported as completed suicides
  3. Were nonfictional.


The World Health Organization's “Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals Update 2017” served as the basis for the ten key criteria.

Step 1: Newspaper listings from three major Bengaluru dailies (P1, P2, and P3) were accessed online through their respective e-portals between January 1 and December 31, 2017.

Step 2: On the search tab of the websites mentioned above, enter the keyword “Suicide” to search all listings of reports/articles on suicide, including attempted and completed suicides, or any mention of the word “suicide” in any form (e.g. suicide bombing, etc.).

Step 3: The researcher evaluated each of the reports mentioned above individually, retaining only those mentioned “Completed Suicides” for the final study.

Step 4: The researcher prepared a Google Form template with 21 data points and 10 critical criteria based on the WHO's “Preventing Suicide: a Resource for Media Professionals Update 2017 'Dos and Do not's” to screen and assess media items for compliance. The 21 data points included - News paper code (P1, P2, and P3), date of publication, gender for reported cases of suicide only (male, female, and other), headline of the report, place of suicide (Bengaluru, other districts of Karnataka, other states of India, and outside India), provision of accurate information about where to seek help (yes and no), educating the public about the facts of suicide and suicide prevention, without spreading myths (yes and no), reporting of how to cope with life stressors or suicidal thoughts, and how to get help (yes and no), application of particular caution when reporting celebrity suicides (Webster's Dictionary: “celebrity” is defined as a person who is widely known) (Not a celebrity suicide, Yes, No), prominent placement of news reports about suicide (page number not mentioned, Yes, No), use of language that sensationalizes or normalizes suicide or presents it as a constructive solution to problems (Yes, No), an explicit description of the method used (Yes, No), Provision of explicit details about the site/location (Yes, No), use of the term “SUICIDE” in the headlines (Yes, No), use of location photographs, video footage, or social media links (Yes, No), explicit mention of the content of the suicide note if available (Yes, No).

Step 5: After screening each report that met the inclusion criteria, data on the 19 items mentioned above were extracted.

A thorough examination of the news item listings was conducted. The number and proportion of suicide reports that adhered to WHO criteria were tabulated. Due to the population-based nature of the data, only descriptive statistics were used. The analysis was conducted to evaluate overall compliance with guidelines, the frequency with which the guidelines dos criteria were followed, and the frequency with which the don'ts criteria were violated. The frequency of adherence to the three-news daily was compared, and the findings are presented.

In the three leading news dailies in Bengaluru, P1, P2, and P3, in the E-edition published between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2017, with the input of the keyword “Suicide,” the search yielded 1399 newspaper reports on suicide. One hundred and forty-eight newspaper reports were from P1, 377 P2, and 814 P3. These articles included all reports of suicides, attempted and completed, and had metaphorical words such as “suicide bombing” or “suicide” mentioned in any form. The researcher further screened these articles to shortlist only those reports that met the inclusion criteria on “Completed Suicide.” ([Figure 1] illustrates this).
Figure 1: Outline of the data collection process.

Click here to view


This study examines how prominent news outlets in Bengaluru, India, report about suicide on their web pages. According to the 395 suicide reports analyzed in [Table 1], a handful of the sampled articles met several primary requirements. Still, it did not meet all the critical criteria for ethical suicide reporting. The absence of authentic information in signposting support significantly undermines suicide prevention efforts. Having the right opportunity to create awareness and not educate the public about the facts fails to provide an alternative perspective to the often-distressing narrative of articles. The media's speculation about the reason for suicide, even before a legal reason is established, is a major source of concern. This tendency of the journalists to rationalize the reasons for a suicidal act, leading to normalization of the same, engaging in unwarranted speculation about the circumstances leading to the act can have a long-term detrimental impact on bereaved family members and readers who tend to identify themselves with the associated individual cited in the report, potentially snowballing the deleterious impact for vulnerable persons. It also shows the tendency of journalists to sensationalize articles to make them more appealing by glossing over the complex circumstances and multifaceted nature of suicide, sometimes resulting in the act being presented as a constructive solution to life's issues. Explicit and undue attention to detail about methods used to complete suicide is the main source of concern. Elaboration of suicide methods can perpetuate future attempts and lead to the trending methods being subsequently chosen by others, resulting in copycat suicides.
Table 1: Proportion of Suicide Reports adherence to WHO Recommendation in the 3 E.Editions of the leading dailies of Bengaluru between January and December 2017

Click here to view


This study focused solely on the Internet platforms for print editions of newspaper articles. No one has examined the content of articles about suicide that appeared in Bengaluru's three most frequently read daily newspapers' online platforms to the recent 2017 WHO update. Given that a single researcher is carrying out this study, the conclusions may be influenced by the subjective assessment of the researcher rater.

The present study highlights the need of the hour to educate key media stakeholders on the importance of anchoring themselves to the collective objective of achieving educated coverage and responsible suicide reporting in the media. The outcomes of this study have important implications for mental health education in the realm of public health. Adhering to globally accepted media reporting guidelines when reporting on suicide in India provides a window for public policy-makers, researchers, media professionals, mental health professionals, and others working in suicide prevention to understand how suicide is portrayed in the Indian media.[7] Training journalists to report on suicide responsibly and enforcing media blackouts on suicide reporting have been beneficial in preventing population-level suicide.[8] Reporting a celebrity's suicide provides an excellent opportunity for public mental health education about suicide prevention, similar to the scenario of using the opportunity to report a celebrity's death as a result of a road traffic collision injury to educate the public about the importance of seat belts in preventing fatalities.

Acknowledgment

The authors would like to express their gratitude to Ms. Deepika Saini, Fellowship Scholar 2020, Department of Mental Health Education, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, for her substantial contributions to the preparation of this manuscript for publication.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
   References Top

1.
Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. Available from: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241564779. [Last updated on 2014; Last accessed on 2022].  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Dandona R, Kumar GA, Dhaliwal RS, Naghavi M, Vos T, Shukla DK, et al. Gender differentials and state variations in suicide deaths in India: The Global Burden of Disease Study 1990–2016. Lancet Public Health 2018;3:478-89.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Niederkrotenthaler T, Voracek M, Herberth A, Till B, Strauss M, Etzersdorfer E, et al. Role of media reports in completed and prevented suicide: Werther v. Papageno effects. Br J Psychiatry 2010;197:234-43.  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Niederkrotenthaler T, Till B, Kapusta ND, Voracek M, Dervic K, Sonneck G. Copycat effects after media reports on suicide: A population-based ecologic study. Soc Sci Med 2009;69:1085-90.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Niederkrotenthaler T, Stack S. Media and Suicide: International Perspectives on Research, Theory, and Policy. New York: Routledge; 2017.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals – Update. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. Available from: https://www.who.int/mental_health/suicide-prevention/resource_booklet_2017/en/. [Last updated on 2017; Last accessed on 2022].  Back to cited text no. 6
    
7.
Tripathi A, Nadkarni A, Pathare S. Life Interrupted: Understanding India's Suicide Crisis. Simon and Schuster India; 2022.  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
van der Feltz-Cornelis CM, Sarchiapone M, Postuvan V, Volker D, Roskar S, Grum AT, et al. Best practice elements of multilevel suicide prevention strategies: A review of systematic reviews. Crisis 2011;32:319-33.  Back to cited text no. 8
    


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