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.


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 Images/AFP
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Why is the government charging more women for selling sex but turning a blind eye to buyers?

Since 2013, the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down.

It’s no surprise that prostitution policy is an area rarely visited by our legislators. It’s politically charged - a place where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head on with notions of liberal freedom; where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base, and no votes.

There’s also little evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population - where one-in-ten men have purchased sex. It is little wonder therefore that our report on how the law should change, published in 2014, was the first major cross-party intervention on the subject in twenty years.

Some take the view that by removing all legal constraints, it will make the inherently exploitative trade of prostitution, safer. It’s not just me that questions this approach, though I accept that - equally - there’s no consensus that my preferred measure of criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising the sale, would fundamentally change the scale of the problem.

Where all sides come together, however, is in the desire to see women diverted from the law courts. It is still possible for women (and it still is women; prostitution remains highly genderised) to go to prison for offences related to prostitution. Today, in 2015.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. This does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, or the violent nature of it.

There were once consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, profiting, and control of prostitution. But since 2013, there have been more prosecutions for soliciting or loitering than for profit from prostitution and kerb crawling each year.

In simple terms, offences committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pocket are having a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted - and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts, and in prosecutions, it is the most vulnerable party in the transaction, who is taking the burden of criminality.

Take on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14 just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 - more than twice as many - for loitering and soliciting.

There is a similar pattern in the 2014/15 figures: 227 charges for kerb crawling reached court, while 456 prosecutions were initiated against those who were selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution, or ‘pimping’, were brought in that same year.

These are men and women on the same street. It takes a high level of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex, rather than men who wish to buy it. And yet women who sell sex are the ones being targeted in our law courts, not the men that create the demand in the first place.

This situation even goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) own guidance. They say:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women strategy because of its gendered nature… At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

Why then, is this happening? For the same reason it always does - in our criminal justice system stigmatised, poor women are valued less than moneyed, professional men.

My debate in Parliament today raises these issues directly with the government ministers responsible. But to be honest, the prosecution-bias against women in the courts isn’t the problem; merely a symptom of it. This bias will only be tackled when the law reflects the inherent harm of the trade to women, rather than sending the mixed signals of today.

That’s why I welcome the work of the End Demand Alliance, composed of over 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, advocating the adoption of the Sex Buyer Law throughout the UK.

This would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Regardless of these big changes in the law, I don’t see how anyone can support the current state of affairs where there are more prosecutions brought against women than men involved in prostitution.

The authorities are targeting women because they're easier to arrest and prosecute. It goes against their own guidance, common sense and natural justice.
And it needs to stop.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.