Newspaper reporting of suicide news in a high suicide burden state in India: Is it compliant with international reporting guidelines?

Asian J Psychiatr. 2021 Apr 16;60:102647. doi: 10.1016/j.ajp.2021.102647. Online ahead of print.


Background: Mounting evidence points to a substantial link between detailed media portrayals of suicide and imitative suicidal behaviour. We assessed the quality of media reporting of suicide in Kerala, a high suicide burden state in India against the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting guidelines.

Methods: We conducted a year-round content analysis of all suicide-related news articles in four (two local language and two English) of the most widely read daily newspapers in Kerala. We used a data extraction form, prepared a priori in accordance with the WHO reporting checklist, and coded each item based on the guidelines.

Results: A total of 377 suicide news articles were retrieved. Harmful reporting practices such as reporting the name (93.9 %) and age (93.6 %) of the deceased, method of suicide (93.1 %), location of suicide (88.9 %), monocausal explanations (48.8 %), and including photograph of the deceased (37.7 %) were commonly noted. On the other hand, less than a fifth of articles complied with helpful practices such as including details of suicide support helpline (19.1 %) or a link with mental health issues (14.9 %). Local language newspapers displayed more frequent violations in reporting compared to English newspapers.

Conclusion: Media reporting of suicide in Kerala, India is poorly adherent to international reporting guidelines, with very little focus on educating the public. These findings point to the need for framing comprehensive media reporting guidelines for India and a collaborative approach to highlight the primary role of media in suicide prevention efforts.

Keywords: Asia; India; Media reporting; Self-harm; Suicide; Suicide prevention.