Mail Online illustrates Eiffel Tower suicide story with video

The Samaritans guidelines are clear on the subject.

As Leveson has gone on, the Mail's attitude to it has hardened, with the mood now very much being that a toughened up PCC is all that's needed. But let's look at a case where the PCC has explicit guidance, and how far the newspaper's website has obeyed it.

"Horror as tourist climbs the Eiffel Tower and then jumps to his death," blares a headline on the Mail Online website this morning.

Suicide is a sensitive and difficult topic for the media to cover -- the PCC code acknowledges there is a public interest in newsworthy deaths, but explicitly states that:

When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used.

As a 2009 ruling stated, "The purpose of this Clause is to prevent the publication of unnecessary information which might encourage 'copycat' suicides."

In addition, the PCC points journalists towards the Samiritans reporting guidelines on the subject. These state:

1. Avoid explicit or technical details of suicide in reports. Providing details of the mechanism and procedure used to carry out a suicide may lead to the imitation of suicidal behaviour by other people at risk.

and:

6. Avoid labelling places as suicide ‘hotspots’. Advertising such locations provides detail about methods of suicide and may play a part in drawing more people to that location. and 10. Consider the timing. The coincidental deaths by suicide of two or more people make the story more topical and newsworthy, but additional care is required in the reporting of ‘another suicide, just days after…’, which might imply a connection.

The full media guidelines have a useful section on images:

• Photographs and footage of the scene, location and method of suicide can lead to imitative action by people who are vulnerable. 

• Avoid the use of dramatic photographs or images related to the suicide. For example photographs of people standing on ledges about to jump or people falling to their deaths.

The reason these guidelines were issued, as Jeremy Paxman puts it in the foreword, were because "Reporting details that can seem inconsequential and merely factual to some audiences can have a profoundly negative effect on others who might be more emotionally vulnerable".

And here is the Mail Online's story:

Security was stepped up around the Eiffel Tower today after an English-speaking man climbed to the top and then jumped to his death. [...] Eerily, a woman attempted a copycat suicide on Monday morning, but that failed when the authorities intervened by helicopter before she had got high enough to hurt herself.

There is then more detail about the two people, including the heights they reached, accompanied by a sidebar on how many people try to throw themselves off the Tower every year.

This is all slightly troubling, but here is the unbelievable bit. At the end of the story, there is a YouTube video embedded of Pathe News Footage of a man who believed he could fly. He jumped from the Tower to his death. The video shows him on the ledge, on his descent, the impact, and being carried away from the scene, dead. 

It is hard to think of a less appropriate accompaniment to a news story about suicide.

I expect that this video will quickly disappear from the Mail Online (as the story about Nicole Kidman's four-year-old's "lithe limbs" was changed within about an hour of a Twitter storm beginning to brew about it). But is this really any way to regulate the press? 

UPDATE 11.40am, 26 June: The video has now been removed. 

The Eiffel Tower. Photo: Getty Images

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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Why a Labour split may be in the interests of both sides

Divorce may be the best option, argues Nick Tyrone. 

Despite everything that is currently happening within the Labour Party - the open infighting amongst party officials, the threat of MPs being deselected, an increasingly bitter leadership contest between two people essentially standing on the same policy platform – the idea of a split is being talked down by everyone involved. The Labour Party will “come together” after the leadership election, somehow. The shared notion is that a split would be bad for everyone other than the Tories.

Allow me to play devil’s advocate. What the Corbynistas want is a Labour Party that is doctrinarily pure. However small that parliamentary party might be for the time being is irrelevant. The basic idea is to build up the membership into a mass movement that will then translate into seats in the House of Commons and eventually, government. You go from 500,000 members to a million, to two million, to five million until you have enough to win a general election.

The majority of the parliamentary Labour party meanwhile believe that properly opposing the Tories in government through conventional means, i.e. actually attacking things the Conservatives put forth in parliament, using mass media to gain public trust and then support, is the way forward. Also, that a revitalisation of social democracy is the ideology to go with as opposed to a nebulous form of socialism.

These two ways of looking at and approaching politics not only do not go together, they are diametric opposites. No wonder the infighting is so vicious; there is no middle way between Corbynism and the bulk of the PLP.

I understand that the Labour MPs do not want to give up on their party, but I don’t see how the membership is shifting in their favour any time soon. Most talk around a split understandably comes back to 1981 and the SDP very quickly yet consider this: the most defections the SDP ever achieved were 28. If there was a split now, it would probably involve the vast majority of the PLP, perhaps even 80 per cent of it – a very, very different proposition. There is also clearly a large number of people out there who want a centre-left, socially democratic, socially liberal party – and polls suggest that for whatever reason the Liberal Democrats cannot capitalise on this gap in the market. Some sort of new centre-left party with 150+ MPs and ex-Labour donors to kick it off just might.

Of course, a split could be a total disaster, at least in the short term, and allow the Tories further general election victories over the next decade. But let’s be honest here – given where we are, isn’t that going to happen anyhow? And if a split simply results in what happened in the 1980s recurring, thus eventually leading to a Labour Party capable of winning a general election again, would members of the PLP currently wondering what to do next not consider it worth it just for that?

Nick Tyrone is Chief Executive of Radix, the think tank for the radical centre.