Background Media guidelines for suicide reporting are available in many countries. However, to what extent the mass media comply with the guidelines is unknown. Few studies are available that investigate systematically whether the mass media reflect the epidemiological reality of suicide deaths in their articles.
Methods Based on the WHO media guidelines, this study investigated the characteristics of newspaper articles of suicides in three Chinese communities, namely Hong Kong, Taiwan and Guangzhou. Epidemiological comparisons were conducted to identify the age and gender differences between the suicide victims as reported in the newspapers and the official records of suicide deaths in all three places.
Results The results found that one media characteristic complied with the WHO media guidelines (ie, only about 2% of the articles were printed on the front page), but there were a number of instances of non-compliance (ie, only 4–14% provided sources for help-seeking and 27–90% printed with photos). The epidemiological comparisons revealed an over-representation of younger suicides and an under-representation of late-life suicides in the newspapers of all three places. Furthermore, female suicides were found to be under-reported in Taiwan and Guangzhou newspapers, but not in Hong Kong papers.
Conclusion Non-compliant suicide articles are prevalent in the newspapers of these three Chinese settings. The observed media misrepresentations may potentially mislead the public and the policy makers about the actual risk for suicide in some demographic groups.
- Media misrepresentation
- Hong Kong
- suicide SI
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Funding This work was supported by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.