Background: Programmes to educate media professionals about suicide are increasingly established, but information about which suicide cases are most likely to be reported in the mass media is sparse.
Methods: We applied binomial tests to compare frequencies of social characteristics of all domestic suicides in the 13 largest Austrian print media in 2005 with frequencies of suicide characteristics in the population. Additionally, each reported suicide case was linked to its respective entry in the suicide database. We performed a logistic regression analysis, with presence of an article as outcome, and sex of the suicide case, age, religious affiliation, family status, conduction of an autopsy and location of the suicide as explaining variables. Time of the year and federal state where the suicide happened was controlled for.
Results: Binomial tests showed that suicides involving murder or murder attempt were over-represented in the media. Reporting on mental disorders was under-represented. In the regression analysis, the likelihood of a report was negatively associated with the age of suicide cases. Foreign citizenship was a further predictor of a suicide report. The methods of drowning, jumping, shooting and rare methods were more likely to be reported than hanging, which is the most frequent suicide method in Austria.
Conclusions: Suicide characteristics in the media are not representative of the population. The identified discrepancies provide a basis for tailor-made education of mass media professionals.