Suicide Reporting Guidelines Issued By Vancouver School Board

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The Vancouver School Board has passed a motion to try and influence the media on how it reports on suicides such as Amanda Todd's. (YouTube) | YouTube

Vancouver School Board trustees passed a motion last night to try and influence how the media in B.C. reports on suicides.

They want all media in the province to follow international guidelines, established by mental health experts.

The catalyst for the motion was Amanda Todd, the Port Coquitlam teenager who took her own life this past October.

Some trustees, including Chair Patti Bacchus, were concerned copy-cat suicides could follow, especially with the front page coverage of Todd's story in the mainstream media.

"Some of the portrayals, the front page coverage, the repetitive nature of the reporting, the photographs that were being published really concerned me based on what I understood about the potential impact of that kind of reporting."

Suicide is the number two killer after accidents among people aged 15 to 24 and research by the World Health Organization has established that reporting about it can encourage others to do the same thing.

Four years ago B.C.'s Coroner Service also made recommendations to the media, including not to report the method of suicide, and not to look for simple answers for the motive.

Media crossed the line, say Bacchus

Bacchus says many media outlets crossed the line when Amanda Todd died and in the rush to be first with information — and to keep up with the torrent of social media — journalists forgot accepted guidelines.

"She has become a household name. She has become almost a celebrity. She has a hash tag, kids are talking and that has some risks associated with it," said Bacchus.

But trustee Fraser Ballantyne, who voted against the motion, said it ignores the realities of modern communications and the huge impact of social media.

Ballantyne notes much of Amanda Todd's story was all over social media — where there are few if any rules to go by — before it was in the mainstream media.

"I'm kind of disturbed about all the media attention that came to it, but as I said in the meeting the horse has left the barn. Social media is here to stay."

Amanda's Todd's mother Carol has taken a very public position on her daughter's death, saying she wants her daughter's story and the video she posted on YouTube to be a catalyst for change.

CBC has long followed guidelines when reporting on suicides, which include avoiding repetitive or sensational coverage, not describing details or methods, and considering the risks of glorifying behavior or influencing vulnerable people before reporting any suicide.

Are you in crisis? Need help? In Canada, find links and numbers to 24-hour suicide crisis lines in your province here.

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