Why the way in which the media covers a celebrity death matters

Media play an important role in reporting broader issues of public interest and unfortunately this includes when a notable celebrity dies.

While many celebrity deaths don’t involve suicide or Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD), some do, which is why it is important that coverage is respectful and responsible.

Everymind Acting Program Manager, Sara Bartlett said that celebrity suicide is often considered newsworthy, but there are a range of factors, which should be considered in order to minimise impact to vulnerable audiences or those who identified with the person who has died.

“Repeated coverage of celebrity suicide or death involving AOD can glamourise and normalise the actions taken by others,” Ms Bartlett said.

“Research suggests that people who are vulnerable to suicide may be drawn to stories about suicide.

“Furthermore repeated coverage or a focus on high-profile deaths can reinforce suicidal or self-harm behaviour in vulnerable individuals.

“The prominence of these stories may increase the risk to vulnerable people who identify with the subject.

“It is incredibly important that media coverage challenges public misconceptions and myths of suicide to protect vulnerable people.

“Media can do this through minimising details of method and location involved in a suicide death validating grief and loss and including appropriate help-seeking information.

“This is incredibly important on significant days of remembrance or the anniversary of a passing, as excessive promotion of public memorials or online memorialisation of an individual can inadvertently reinforce suicide as a desired outcome.”

Covering a celebrity death by suicide, with or without AOD use can be done sensitively and accurately while minimising risk to vulnerable individuals.

Some important considerations for media include:

  • Ensure the death has been confirmed as a suicide by official sources to ensure report does not fuel speculation or interfere with ongoing investigations.
  • Assess whether the story is clearly in the public interest. It can be useful to consult with Mindframe for advice about the impacts of reporting a specific case.
  • Consider how many stories about suicide have recently been covered as research suggests that a succession of stories of suicide can reinforce suicidal behaviour for people who are vulnerable.
  • Minimise details about the death including method and location, use appropriate language and promote help-seeking information. Disclosing explicit content from a suicide note may impact on vulnerable people, including those bereaved. This information alone, without context, may not tell the whole story.
    Include relevant help-seeking information with every story.
  • While evidence is still emerging, caution should also be applied to the online environment including social media.

Find more information on reporting on suicide or AOD related deaths, including language guidelines and help-seeking information, on the Mindframe website.

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