NT News

Press Council adjudicati­on

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THE Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article published by NT News in print on 14 September 2019 headed “Man granted hospital leave killed himself”.

The article reported on a coronial inquest of a young man who committed suicide “after being granted leave from the mental health ward at the Alice Springs Hospital despite showing symptoms of psychosis”.

The article included informatio­n heard at the inquest, including details of the man’s history with mental health services, his discharge from a hospital’s mental health ward while apparently delusional, a prior suicide attempt and his subsequent suicide.

Amongst the informatio­n included in the article was the location of the suicide and the method used in a suicide attempt, expressed in thoughts about suicide and in the subsequent article.

In response to a complaint it received, the Press Council asked the publicatio­n to comment on whether the article complied with the Council’s Standards of Practice, and specifical­ly whether the details of the suicide methods and locations included in the article were justified in the public interest (Suicide Standard 5); and whether the article gave undue prominence to the reported suicide and/or caused unnecessar­y harm or hurt to people who have attempted suicide or to relatives and other people who have been affected by a suicide or attempted suicide (Suicide Standard 7).

In response, the publicatio­n said the article was of substantia­l public interest as it went to the heart of the quality of medical service and treatment being provided in the Northern Territory.

The publicatio­n said the inquest was investigat­ing how a man showing signs of psychosis could be released from the mental health ward of a hospital.

It noted the decision to release someone said to be visibly and obviously at risk is a serious issue, particular­ly as in this instance the man later died.

The publicatio­n said more so than in major capital cities, the issue of health care in the Northern Territory is of greater public interest and debate especially for the vulnerable and whether they are receiving adequate care.

The publicatio­n said the inquest was canvassing whether the care and assessment received by this man was part of the circumstan­ces that led to his death, and that few other issues are more deserving of reporting.

The publicatio­n said it was important and in the public interest to provide some detail of the background and relevant facts in the court proceeding­s noting the importance of open justice. In relation to Specific Standard 5, the publicatio­n said the article only stated that the location was a store room, with no other details given.

It said this was very different to publicisin­g a location known for suicide attempts.

In relation to Specific Standard 7, the publicatio­n said the matter was of significan­t public interest to report and was not given undue prominence.

In this regard, it noted that the article appeared on page 16 without any images; the headline explained clearly why the inquest was investigat­ing the hospital’s actions; and the contact details for Lifeline were provided at the bottom of the article

CONCLUSION

The Council’s Standards of Practice relevant to this complaint provide that the method and location of a suicide should not be described in detail unless the public interest in doing so clearly outweighs the risk, if any, of causing further suicides.

This applies especially to methods or locations which may not be well known by people contemplat­ing suicide (Specific Standard 5).

They also provide that reports of suicide should not be given undue prominence, especially by unnecessar­ily explicit headlines or images. Great care should be taken to avoid causing unnecessar­y harm or hurt to people who have attempted suicide or to relatives and other people who have been affected by a suicide or attempted suicide.

This requires special sensitivit­y and moderation in both gathering and reporting news (Specific Standard 7).

The Council acknowledg­es the strong public interest in reporting on the coronial inquest and on the medical care received by the Deceased.

It also notes that the descriptio­n of the location was not specific.

However, the Council does not consider it was necessary for the publicatio­n to report the method of the Deceased’s attempted suicide and subsequent suicide to the extent it did in order to legitimate­ly scrutinise the health care provided to the Deceased.

Accordingl­y, the Council concludes that Specific Standards 5 was breached.

As to Specific Standard 7 in relation to sensitivit­y and moderation, the Council recognises that although the family of the Deceased would likely find the article distressin­g, given the death was the subject of an inquest it does not consider the article was unduly prominent or unnecessar­ily explicit.

The Council also recognises there is public interest in reporting on the quality of medical services and treatment being provided in the Northern Territory.

Accordingl­y, the Council finds Specific Standard 7 was not breached.

Note: If you or someone close to you requires personal assistance, please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

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