Objectives: Suicide rates in India are among the highest in the world, resulting in an estimated 250,000 suicide deaths annually. How the media communicates with the Indian public on the topic of suicide has thus far gone without sufficient scrutiny. The objective of our study was to assess the quality of newspaper reporting of suicide-related news in India against World Health Organization suicide reporting guidelines.
Methods: We used content analysis to assess the quality of suicide reporting against World Health Organization guidelines in nine of the most highly read daily newspapers in the southern state of Tamil Nadu between June and December 2016. Five of the nine newspapers under review were in the top 20 most circulated daily newspapers in the country.
Results: A total of 1681 suicide articles were retrieved. The mean number of suicide articles per day per newspaper was 0.9%, and 54.5% of articles were 10 sentences or less. The vast majority (95.9%) of articles primarily focused on reporting specific suicide incidents. Harmful reporting practices were very common (e.g. a detailed suicide method was reported in 43.3% of articles), while helpful reporting practices were rare (e.g. just 2.5% gave contact details for a suicide support service).
Conclusions: We observed that a daily diet of short and explicit suicide-related news was served up to readers of newspapers. Attempts should be made to understand the perspectives of media professionals in relation to suicide reporting, and to devise strategies to boost the positive contribution that media can make to suicide prevention.
Keywords: India; content analysis; guidelines; media reporting; suicide.