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Gulf News publishes handy suicide tips
The UAE newspaper, not known for its sensitivity or good taste, prints helpline number in the centre of a noose.
January 18, 2010 12:04 by Ben Flanagan
The newspaper behind a commentary article denying the Holocaust, a feature called “Worst wreck of the Week”, and the memorable headline “Lahore attack stumps world” – referring to last year’s deadly attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team – has once again proved to be a fine ambassador of good taste.
Today’s Gulf News features a report about suicide in the UAE, which includes a handy guide detailing “common suicides methods”. It is illustrated with pictures of a noose, razor blades, and a bottle of flammable liquid.
The guide gives detailed, noun-heavy descriptions. “Hanging” is described as “using a rope, wire, belt, or piece of cloth which is attached to a high level such as the ceiling, fan, staircase or a tree.” Another method, the newspaper reports, involves “taking high doses of pills, drinking a detergent, pesticides, detergents, or poisonous substance.” The main article describes a mechanic who, “faced with family issues, hung himself using his wezar [long under clothing].”
Well, get me to a wezar shop, pronto.
Journalists and editors have a responsibility to report the issue of suicide in a non-sensational manner, ensuring they do not glamorize, simplify or in any way condone self-harm or suicide. By giving such explicit details about suicide methods, Gulf News has once again failed to present its journalism in a responsible and tasteful manner.
The sensitivities behind this issue are eloquently expressed in a report by the UK-based emotional support charity The Samaritans. In the introduction to the charity’s published media guidelines, news presenter Jeremy Paxman says that “inappropriate reporting or depiction can lead to ‘copycat suicides’, particularly amongst younger more vulnerable audiences”.
More than 60 research articles have found that media reporting of suicide can lead to imitative behavior. The Samaritans report cites the example of a British TV drama which contained a storyline about a deliberate self-poisoning. Cases of self-poisoning in the UK increased by 17 percent in the week following the broadcast of the show, and by 9 percent in the second week.
Gulf News did not, as The Samaritans advise, avoid explicit or technical details of suicide. As the charity’s report states: “Providing details of the mechanism and procedure used to carry out a suicide may lead to the imitation of suicidal behaviour by other people at risk… saying someone hanged themselves is better than saying they hanged themselves using their own school shirt from their bedroom door.” The detail of the wezar proves that such sensitivities were not taken into consideration.
Gulf News also cited a number of singular causes as being behind suicide attempts by UAE residents. According to The Samaritans, this is not helpful. “Suicide should not be portrayed as the inevitable outcome of serious personal problems,” says the charity’s report.
Admittedly, Gulf News did print a suicide helpline number alongside the article. But, unfortunately, it was depicted in the centre of a noose. Just another example of the newspaper’s trademark sensitivity, then.