Media Coverage of Two High Profile Suicides during my Stay in Australia
As you all know I am visiting Australia and New Zealand to learn how both countries respond to and care for people bereaved by suicide. Within less than 24 hours of arriving in Australia I was about to learn how the media respond when a celebrity from their country dies by suicide.
On the 23rd February, 2014 the media reported that Charlotte Dawson aged 47 years, who was a TV personality had died by suicide. Charlotte had a long history of depression. Several months prior to her death she had been bullied by trolls on twitter http://www.closeronline.co.uk/2014/02/tv-presenter-charlotte-dawson-commits-suicide-following-vile-twitter-abuse which resulted in a serious suicide attempt. Charlotte survived this incident and as a direct result became an anti-bullying advocate. Months later she ended her life. http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/2014/02/23/16/04/charlotte-dawson-fabulous-in-final-tv-appearance-day-before-her-death
Her death sent shock waves across Australia. All newspapers and TV channels incessantly covered her life and her subsequent death in minute detail during the following week. There were some similarities to Gary Speed’s death, who was the Welsh football manager in the UK. In that, Charlotte had been on television within 24 hours of her death and there were no visible signs of her distress.
I must say that everything that I had read or watched on the TV about Charlotte Dawson was reported in a sensitive manner. They discussed mental health issues and the importance of seeking help. Also, helpline numbers for people who were feeling suicidal or who were deeply distressed about her death were repeatedly provided in newspapers, magazines and programmes.
I was visiting New Zealand at the time of Charlotte Dawson’s funeral. New Zealand also covered her death etc. However, I was particularly impressed at the list of agencies (six in total) which could be contacted if they were struggling to cope or were affected by the death. It was evident that both Australia and New Zealand report suicides in a sensitive and appropriate manner.
Fast forward to day 27 of my travel fellowship. Newspapers and the media were again reporting another celebrity that had died by suicide. However, this celebrity lived in America. Her name was L’Wren Scott, and was a designer, former model and partner of Sir Mick Jagger. It seems that the rules had changed! It is a long time since I have read such insensitive reporting. The following quotes are from ‘the Daily Telegraph’ published in Australia (19th March 2014).
- More than half the front page of the above mentioned paper is a photo of Sir Mick Jagger taken moments after he was told of his partners death;
- Two additional pages (8-9) which include lots of photographs but the following quotes concern me the most:
- ‘For Jagger, it has opened some raw wounds – and old stories-of girlfriends past and his very tumultuous love life over the years. Particularly in the British press, tales about Jagger’s exes, including Marianne Faithfull’s attempted suicide and another overdose attempt by one of his first serious girlfriends Chrissie Shrimpton, which is said to be hushed up at the time, have already surfaced. Faithfull and Jagger were in Australia in 1969 when she swallowed 50 sleeping tablets .
- Wait for it, with regards providing sources of support for those might be affected by the death – the font size was considerably smaller and just said, ‘Lifeline 13 11 14.’
I cannot begin to tell you how incensed I was to read the above extracts. I purchased ‘The Telegraph’ (Australian newspaper) published the following day (20th March, 2014), to see what else would be written. Dare I say, it is was equally insensitive if not even worse!
‘Meanwhile New York police revealed his lover of 13 years didn’t take any chances when she hanged herself. Ms Scott had wrapped a tie around her neck before using a black satin scarf to hang herself from a door handle in her Manhattan apartment on Monday. “The necktie would apply more pressure,” a source said, “She must have figured that if the scarf wasn’t long enough or something, then the necktie would choke her out. She clearly wanted to do the job right.”
Good god, what has happened to reporting guidelines?
- At what point are we going to start to address online bullying seriously?
- Why would the media in one country be sensitive to one celebrity suicide yet respond inappropriately and irresponsibly to another?
- How many of you think it is appropriate to publish a photo of a famous person (i.e. Mike Jagger) who has just been told that a ‘significant other’ has died by suicide? This is a new level of insensitive and depraved behaviour adopted by journalists – measures should be put in place to ensure this never happens again.