Methodology

Process of developing the Media Reporting Scorecard

We first reviewed documents and guidelines for responsible media reporting of suicides by the WHO, and Suicide Prevention and Research Implementation Initiative (SPIRIT). After reviewing these documents, an initial draft of positive and negative parameters was developed. In consultation with suicide prevention experts, the 10 most important positive and negative parameters were included in the final version of the Media Reporting Scorecard.dsds

Data collection

For Edition I, II III, IV and V of Project SIREN, we evaluated 9 print newspapers (with 107 online editions) for articles on suicides and attempted suicides and how well they adhere to the guidelines.

For Edition II, III, IV and V of Project SIREN we evaluated 15 – 18 online publications, which include the online versions of newspapers in addition to other digital publications. The 18 online publications have been selected from a list of 65 online publications that were identified during a pilot study undertaken for data collection of the paper titled Analysis of news media reports of suicides and attempted suicides during the COVID-19 lockdown in India, authored by team members of Project SIREN.

Articles from newspapers and online publications are collected and analysed on a quarterly basis.

Articles were included based upon the following criteria:

  1. Only English language publications were included
  2. Articles published within the quarter
  3. Articles were included only if they reported cases of suicide or attempted suicide.
  4. If an article was repeated across editions, with the same headline, content and number of sentences, only the first article was scored.

Articles were excluded based upon the following criteria:

  1. General commentary articles on suicide, suicide prevention and mental health.
  2. Articles that solely focused on suicidal ideation
  3. Articles that were on bombings with an intent to kill oneself and others
  4. Reports that were undetermined. Undetermined cases are instances where it was not clear if it was a suicide, accidental death or homicide and the matter was under investigation.
  5. Reports where less than 50% of the content of the article was on the death by suicide or suicide attempt. In such articles, there was insufficient data that could not be coded.
  6. Reports from online publications with video footage.

A team of trained researchers are involved in the data collection and analysis process. They identify articles from the newspapers assigned to them and collect case data and demographic data on the Media Reporting Scorecard.

For gathering articles from newspapers, e-newspapers were combed through. In instances where the newspaper website offered a search function, articles were identified using the key words ‘suicide’, ‘kills self’, and ‘ends life’.

For online publications, Media Cloud, an open-source content analysis tool, was used to automatically source data from 18 online publications. A query was created to collate articles from the RSS feeds of the online publications, using keywords ‘suicide’, ‘kills self’, and ‘ends life.’

Subsequently, each article was independently coded on the positive and negative scale by following the Media Reporting Scorecard (ref. Table 1). Two of the lead researchers convened periodically to discuss and resolve discrepancies in codes on the scoring scales. All discrepancies were addressed in this process and the researcher arrived at the final codes through concurrence.

All the data is collated on to a Master Sheet and tabulated to provide positive and negative scores sorted by publication and the percentage of reports that meet positive and negative parameters.

Table 1: MEDIA REPORTING SCORECARD

POSITIVE SCORECARD

The parameters chosen for the positive scorecard are good practices which are a part of responsible reporting practices on suicides and promote suicide prevention among the public.

There are 10 criteria in the positive scorecard. If the report meets the parameter, it is scored “1” else “0”.

Positive parameter Description Example
Presence of help seeking information Provides information of national or state-level support services that includes suicide prevention centres, emergency units in hospitals, 24/7 crisis helplines, self-help groups, mental health professionals, general physicians, community resources, rehabilitation centres. “Those in distress or having suicidal tendencies could seek help and counselling by call Sneha – 044- 24640050”.
Information is up to date and operational The information and contact details provided should be accurate and reliable. By operational we mean it should be relevant to where the article is published. This can be verified through a Google search. Placed at the bottom of the article.
Links to poor mental health The report establishes a link between suicidal behaviour and a mental illness, by making a clear reference to the individual’s struggle with a mental illness, its effect on their mental state. Inappropriate language such as “crazy” or “mental” is not accepted. Neither are mood qualifiers like “stressed”, “unhappy” etc. “Before ending his life, the deceased, who was said to be depressed.”
Links to drug/ alcohol abuse The report acknowledges the link between the suicide and the substance and alcohol use. The report clearly refers to the person’s ongoing struggle with alcohol or drug addiction. A reference to the person’s intoxicated state at the time of suicide does not qualify. “Owing to the liquor ban, Suneesh was in a state of alcohol withdrawal and took his life.”
Comments from mental health and suicide prevention experts The article contains a quote or comment from a mental health professional or suicide prevention expert. “Dr. Singh, a psychiatrist at KEM Hospital encourages reaching out to family members or friends who are disconnected, alone and have expressed distress.”
Reduces stigma highlights suicides are preventable The article highlights that suicides are preventable by taking preventive measures and identifying risks in time and contains information that reduces stigma around talking about suicide and mental health concerns. “Suicides can be prevented and it’s okay to talk about how you are feeling…”
Credible population-level suicide statistics and/ or other research findings The article reports on suicide-related statistical data. It may also provide findings from studies conducted on suicide and suicide prevention. “The Ministry of Agriculture reported 127 farmers who died by suicide during the period of the lockdown.”
Challenges popular myths The report challenges popular myths and reinforces false nature of such myths:

  • Talking about suicide will lead to and encourage suicide.
  • People who talk about suicide do not mean to do it
  • People with mental illnesses usually are the ones who end their lives
  • There are no preceding warning signs
  • There is nothing you can do to prevent suicide
“Socially, mental illness and thoughts about suicide are not something we talk about… what we have learnt from the mental health partners and academics we have worked with is that being connected is a protective factor in suicide prevention.”
Links to hopeful stories The report should have links to or snippets of reports that contain hopeful stories of people who have overcome suicidal thoughts and feelings. “Mohammad Shami has spoken about suicidal thoughts he faced in the past and has opened up about the help he received to overcome those thoughts in this article.”
Verified information and facts from official source Information and facts are verified by official sources that include police officers, healthcare professionals or a government authority in the area. “Police confirmed, Harish jumped off the bridge at 1am last night.”

NEGATIVE SCORECARD:

The negative scorecard contains items that are violations, or practices which are harmful and may negatively influence population groups experiencing suicidal behaviour and ideation.

There are 10 criteria in the negative scorecard. If the report meets the parameter, it is scored “1” else “0”.

Negative parameter Description Example
Use of criminalizing language The article uses phrases that associates suicide with a crime or sin, ‘committed suicide’. “He committed suicide by jumping off the balcony from his residence”.
Attention-grabbing headlines The headline includes the word ‘suicide’, mentions a life event, the method or the reason for the suicide or attempted suicide “Man jumps to death on testing positive for Covid-19” “Woman commits suicide by hanging after marriage failure.”
Describes method in detail The article provides at least two specific details about the suicide/ attempted suicide method. “… jumped from the third floor balcony by hoisting themselves off the grill.”

“… attempted to hang herself from a ceiling fan using her dupatta.”

Method of suicide or attempted suicide is mentioned in the article The article mentions the method of suicide or attempted suicide. “He was found hanging in his room.”
Discloses details of the suicide site The report provides enough information to clearly identify the location and it is somewhat accessible to at least some members of the public. “The deceased took their life in their residence at Prestige Luxe Complex in Koramangala”

“After her test results came back negative, she took her life by jumping from the window of KEM Hospital.”

Reduces reason to a single factor or event The article clearly articulates that the suicide incident had just one motive, cause or trigger. It over-simplifies the complex realities of suicide by reducing it to a single factor. The causal relationship is NOT subject to speculation. “Upon losing his job, Prakash ended his life…,”

“Police said that he was under severe financial stress and therefore took this extreme step.”

Accompanying photos The report publishes photographs or video footage of the deceased, bereaved members, the location of the suicide and the method as well as other dramatic/ emotional images (e.g. a noose, slit wrists, person standing on the ledge, etc.)
Contains information on grieving persons The article reports on the effects of a suicide on bereaved persons or contains interview with bereaved persons. Relatives, friends of the victim and other private persons involved in the suicidal act or affected by the suicide are defined as bereaved persons. “After no response from banging her door, her father kicked down the door and was shocked to find her hanging from the fan.”
Publishes note, text and social media post The report publishes suicide notes, text messages, social media posts and emails of the deceased person and/or their family members. “In his suicide note, the deceased said “I am ending my life because I see no point in living. No one is to blame for my death.”
Article is on the front page of the newspaper
(only for newspapers)
The article is published on the first page. This includes articles that commence on the first page and are then continued in later pages.
Hyperlinks to stories on suicides or other suicide material (only for online publications) The article hyperlinks to other stories on suicides. This could be links to social media, videos or audio footage. His death comes days after three students took their lives in Hyderabad.