Franklin James Cook

Ban of “60 Minutes” Stirs Debate on Media-Suicide Link

In Media, Prevention on August 16, 2009 at 9:28 am

LATEST UPDATE: In an Aug. 24 article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Kellee Nolan reports that the Nine Network stopped pressing its objections to the ban of the “60 Minutes” segment.

The Supreme Court of Victoria … heard the Nine Network had agreed never to broadcast the segment, which was about four students from the same Geelong high school who committed suicide in a six-month period this year. The court heard Nine had agreed not to broadcast “on ’60 Minutes’ or any other program … the segment ‘Searching for Answers,’ or any part of it.”

Beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett, who had initiated the original injunction preventing the show from being broadcast, said

“We just don’t ever want to see programs that provide some solace, that may provide some acceptability to ending a life, particularly for those who at the time of receiving that information, may be at risk.”

Nine Network stood by its story, but issued a statement that said, “t was pretty clear there was not going to be a consensus relating to this story in the short term, so we felt it was best not to further contest the matter.”

ORIGINAL STORY:
Two articles from The Age update the story about a court injunction against the Australian broadcast by TV news magazine 60 Minutes, of a program about teen suicide at a high school in Geelong.

One article announces that “the broadcaster [Channel Nine] had reached agreement with the State Government not to air the program or any part of it until the matter returned to court on August 21.”

[Channel] Nine sought the adjournment so that the Government and anti-depression organisation beyondblue could consider the proposed segment.

In the other article, reporter Michael Bachelard explains that Beyond Blue chairman Jeff “Kennett began his crusade against the publication of stories about suicide long before he took 60 Minutes to the Supreme Court last week to prevent it from airing a report on a cluster of teen deaths at a Geelong high school.”

Kennett’s objection are grounded in the theory that there is a relationship between media coverage about suicide and suicide contagion.

When covering suicides, Australia’s media are governed by a voluntary code of practice, the first question of which is whether the story should run at all. The answer is most often “No.”

Mr Kennett’s action in the Geelong case was informed by clear advice from adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, and he was swiftly joined by the State Government in enforcing an injunction on Channel Nine.

The confrontation between the producers of the 60 Minutes segment, titled “Searching for Answers,” and the parties who have taken court action to halt its broadcast, both Beyond Blue and the Victorian Education Department has highlighted the debate over media coverage of suicide.

60 Minutes declined to comment for this article, citing the injunction. But in an earlier comment, a spokesman said that the program had the support of some of the families involved, and that it constituted “careful and appropriate treatment,” which “offers hope to young people in very difficult circumstances.”

Fairfax radio’s Derryn Hinch said this week that the program should have gone to air because, “talking about it, getting kids to watch and to listen, is much better than banning a TV show and making it all sound mysterious and illicit and maybe — to a gullible teenage mind — something rebellious and enticing.”

That approach finds some support in the British media code. Their guidelines, like Australia’s, encourage sensitivity and warn against sensational treatment, but they add that “censorship or misinformation about suicide is unhelpful,” and say that “media professionals should not seek to hide the facts.”

Kennett says his opposition to airing the program follows Carr-Gregg’s about suicide contagion and the media. Carr-Gregg had been interviewed previously in an article in The Sunday Age:

“I do not mind there being factual reporting of an incident. [But when] there are then programs … that increase the risk of there being repeat episodes, it is those programs that I call into question.”

A particular concern was that 60 Minutes was saying that a 17-year-old boy, “who obviously featured in the program,” would be available online to answer viewers’ questions. “That is not an expert … you just can’t do that. On a subject like that, it’s manifestly not something you can do,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.

[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/60MinutesBan .]
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  1. This whole banning is ridiculous. I have been through depression myself and only got through it with help. Teenagers with depression, males especially, need to know it is ok to talk about and need to know what sort of help is available. Banning the story only clouds the issue and confuses them on whether or not talking about it is acceptable. and mosst ‘trained’ psychologists would know how much good bottling up emotions does for depression! I mean I am 17 and even I can tell something needs to be done about depression in australia and banning programs that speak out about it and explain the truth isn’t helping anyone

  2. When people are left in the dark, they will grasp for anything to hold onto. Even if it is not solid. When will we get to the point to offer hope and not hipe.

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