1 Apr 2014

Suicide reporting restrictions may ease

8:19 pm on 1 April 2014

The Law Commission wants the media to have more freedom to report on suicides, except when it comes to manner of death.

The commission is recommending restrictions in the Coroners Act on how to report suicide, prohibiting the reporting of the method and that a death is a suicide.

There are more than 500 suicides every year in New Zealand.

Law Commission president Sir Grant Hammond said on Tuesday the restrictions would apply to all types of media outlets, including social media and blogs.

Sir Grant said the proposed changes would help reduce copycat suicides, or what health professionals called the "contagion effect".

"In one area there is agreement - the publication of the method of death. The notion is that, particularly in vulnerable individuals, this can lead to an increase in the suicide rate."

Sir Grant said talking about manner of death is harmful from a public health point of view, and there is widespread agreement that the method should not be discussed or revealed, save in exceptional circumstances.

Sir Grant said the media should be able to apply to the Chief Coroner for an exemption, and would be able to describe a death as a 'suspected' suicide where the facts support it.

At present, there is too much ambiguity and more clarity would prevent breaches, he said. The commission has recommended fines of up to $20,000 for breaches.

Courts Minister Chester Borrows said some aspects of the current rules were unclear and welcomed the proposed changes.

Mental Health Foundation spokesperson Moira Clunie says it supports the commission's proposals as currently, media outlets take differing positions on what they believe the law to mean.