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 regularly appears on BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and the News Quiz, and BBC1’s Sunday Politics. 

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The Daily Mail’s reaction to Tom Daley’s baby is a reminder we’re not all equal yet

Columnist Richard Littlejohn seems to find it hard to cope with the idea of a gay couple having a moment of happiness.

Seeing as it’s LGBT+ history month, you would be forgiven for thinking that, just maybe, Britain could make it through 28 short days without a homophobic media controversy. But sadly, where optimism appears, the right-wing British press too often follows.

After the news that British Olympic diver Tom Daley and Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance-Black are expecting their first child via a surrogate, radio station LBC quickly found itself in hot water. The station asked Twitter users whether, in their opinion, there is anything “sinister” about the woman carrying Daley and Lance-Black’s child being absent from the majority of media coverage. While there has long been a debate about the ethics of surrogacy, there are plenty of straight couples who have also turned to this option, and many nuances depending on the context, so the timing and wording of the question seemed pointed. LBC subsequently apologised for the “badly worded debate”.

But meanwhile, the printing presses were whirring.The main course to LBC’s starter, the Death Star to its Vadar and the hot dog to its mustard was springing into action. Otherwise known as: The Daily Mail.

Seemingly unable to cope with the idea of a gay couple having a moment of happiness, the paper employed its most un-lethal weapon, Richard Littlejohn, to put things right. In a piece entitled “Please don't pretend two dads is the new normal”, the columnist condemned the pair’s social media announcement, before expressing his discomfort at women being treated as “breeding machines” (again, note the sudden interest in the surrogacy debate). Next he takes aim at the media, lambasting them for covering this news just like any other baby announcement. Littlejohn then asks a series of erratic questions in quick succession. “Is Daley or his husband the father? Was it Bill, or was it Ben? Or neither of them?” Like a GSCE candidate who failed to revise for the exam, he soldiers on: “More pertinently, never mind Who's The Daddy? Who's The Mummy?”

By this point, you can practically picture Littlejohn, sweaty and misshapen, frothing at the mouth as he pummels his keyboard. Sensing that he’s out of material but still has half a page to fill, he haphazardly directs his hostility towards a trans woman who appeared in the news earlier this week, because why bother being homophobic when you can be transphobic too? Concluding the piece on a crescendo of awfulness, he “jokes” that he’s looking forward to the pictures of Daley breastfeeding, because apparently you can’t be a parent if you don’t breastfeed.

I suppose I should thank Littlejohn for proving, yet again, that the best way to transform male right-wing columnists into strident feminists is an opportunity to remind gay or trans people that they’ll never be seen as equals. Pre-emptively defending himself against accusations of homophobia within the article, Littlejohn claims he supported civil partnerships (but notably not same-sex marriages) long before “it was fashionable” to do so. Yet in 2004, the year that civil partnerships were introduced, Guardian columnist Marina Hyde dedicated an entire column to tracking his obsession with LGBT issues. “In the past year's Sun columns, Richard has referred 42 times to gays, 16 times to lesbians, 15 to homosexuals, eight to bisexuals, twice to 'homophobia' and six to being 'homophobic' (note his inverted commas), five times to cottaging, four to "gay sex in public toilets", three to poofs, twice to lesbianism, and once each to buggery, dykery, and poovery.” She writes, concluding: “This amounts to 104 references in 90-odd columns.”

The reaction to Littlejohn's latest piece was quick. Several organisations pulled out of advertising in the Daily Mail, a signal that the days of men like Littlejohn may soon be over. But whether published or not, this brand of homophobia is still prevalent in Britain. It appears when people claim not to have a problem with LGBT+ people, until one of their children comes out as gay or has a gay friend. It appears every time a person starts a sentence with “I’m not being homophobic, but…” It appears when gay parents, even those who have won Olympic medals and Academy Awards, are still only seen as a marginally better option that children being left to, as Littlejohn puts it, “rot in state run institutions where they face a better-than-average chance of being abused”.

As I suspect Littlejohn knows, no one is claiming that two dads is the new normal. Two gay parents is still a relatively new image for media and the public to digest, which has enabled this “debate” to happen. When 58 per cent of gay men are too afraid to hold hands with a partner in public, the idea that gay relationships are accepted enough to be considered anywhere close the “new normal” is ridiculous.

Yet Daley and Lance-Black’s announcement has revealed that, while homophobia is still mainstream enough to make it on to major platforms in the UK, it does not go unchallenged. We might not know what the tomorrow’s “normal” will be, but relics like Littlejohn represent the very worst of the past.