Izabela Korbiel, Katharine Sarikakis

Silencing vulnerability or 'do no harm'?: Ethical dilemmas in reporting suicide at times of crisis

The outbreak of the financial crisis in Europe in 2008 brought social disintegration and impoverishment, the deterioration of social care and the emergence of new vulnerabilities. The numbers are alarming: studies show links between 10,000 suicides during the first period of the financial crisis (2008-2010) in Europe and North America. The common praxis of the media, however, is to 'medicalise' suicide or to avoid it in order to protect the public. The person committing suicide is presented primarily as an individual suffering from mental disorder, disconnected from the society. Existing media guidelines support this praxis. In the framework of media governance and self-regulation, this study examines 26 guidelines and journalistic codes of conduct for reporting suicide worldwide to answer the main research questions: to what extent are existing ethical guidelines adequate and appropriate in the context of the current crisis and to what extent do they serve the public interest? The paper argues that the societal context of suicide remains unacknowledged in media guidelines, which largely fail to assign agency to a person committing suicide.

Keywords: 'do no harm', media ethics, suicide, vulnerability


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Note on the contributor

Izabela Korbiel is a researcher, PhD candidate and member of the Media Governance and Industries Research Lab. Her research focuses on the under-researched field of ethics and governance of content. She teaches courses in communication ethics and methods at the University of Vienna and works on her thesis about media coverage of suicide in times of financial crisis. She has conducted research in several European countries mostly affected by the current crisis. Contact details: Department of Communication, University of Vienna, Währingerstr. 29, 1090 Wien. Email: izabela.korbiel@univie.ac.at.
Dr Katharine Sarikakis is Professor of Communication Science specialising in Media Governance, Media Organisation and Media Industries at the Department of Communication Science, University of Vienna. She holds the Jean Monnet Chair in Media Governance and Integration and leads the Media Governance and Industries Research lab. Contact details: Department of Communication, University of Vienna, Währingerstr. 29, 1090 Wien. Email: katharine.sarikakis@univie.ac.at.