Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
26 June 2012updated 07 Sep 2021 11:53am

Mail Online illustrates Eiffel Tower suicide story with video

By New Statesman

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 them.

“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.”

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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:

Content from our partners
Stella Creasy: “Government’s job is to crowdsource, not crowd-control”
Industrial Strategy: Ensuring digital skills are included
The Sugar Tax: what does it mean for the wider economy?

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, in the words of Jeremy Paxman 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’s suicides, 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, and being carried away from the scene, dead. 

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