The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article published online on 30 May 2017 by Daily Mail Australia headed “Commuter chaos as man throws himself in the path of a train in front of horrified passengers on a busy Sydney platform – and drivers have to drag him from under the carriage”. Below the headline were several bullet point sub-headlines, including “Young man jumped in front of train” and the name of the station, that “He tried to kill himself in front of horrified passengers” at a stated time, repeated the reference to drivers having to “drag the badly injured man from under the front carriage” and that trains were shut down between two major stations in Sydney “just before peak hour”.
The article reported that a “Young man jumped in front of a train” at a named station in Sydney in front of “horrified passengers” and went on to describe witness accounts that “train drivers rushed to help the man who was wedged under the front carriage while commuters looked on”. The article contained seven photographs showing ambulance and emergency officers at the train station, including one of the platform which, although it did not show detailed activity, was accompanied by a caption including the words “police cleaning blood off the train pictured” and three other photographs showing a stretcher, with one of these depicting the lower half of a covered body on a stretcher being placed in an ambulance. It also said “Thousands of office workers in North Sydney would likely need to take buses home as police said trains could be cancelled for several hours”.
The Council asked the publication to comment on whether the article breached its Standards of Practice, in particular whether the publication took reasonable steps to avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety (General Principle 6)—unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.
The Council also asked the publication to comment on whether its Specific Standards on the Coverage of Suicide were breached, in particular Specific Standard 3 which requires that in deciding whether to report a suicide—which includes attempted suicide—consideration should be given to whether clear and informed consent has been provided by appropriate relatives or close friends, or whether such reporting is clearly in the public interest; Specific Standard 5 which requires that the method and location of a suicide should not be described in detail unless the public interest in doing so clearly outweighs the risk, if any, of causing further suicide; and Specific Standard 7 which requires that reports of suicide should not be given undue prominence and great care should be taken to avoid causing unnecessary harm or hurt to those who attempted suicide or to relatives and others who have been affected by a suicide or attempted suicide.
The publication said its reporter was a witness to the incident and provided information and photographs to its news desk. It said the news desk carefully considered the images before publishing them and determined they would not be likely to cause distress. It decided against publishing other more graphic photographs. The publication said it did not intend to cause offence and took care to ensure that all information was published with sensitivity.
The publication said the article was in the public interest as the attempted suicide took place in public with dozens of witnesses and caused major disruption to the transport network and the article highlighted that trains were cancelled around peak travel times. It said the location of the attempted suicide was a key part of the story and in the public interest to report, and that the method was well-known.
The publication said it acknowledged some of the wording in the article was strong, but this and the included photographs did not glamorise suicide or present it as a solution to a vulnerable person’s problems. It also said the one photograph featuring the young man did not depict anything likely to cause distress.
The publication said the article also included details of how witnesses to the incident felt, and it hoped this would show vulnerable people that committing such a public act can emotionally impact others around them.
The Council notes the use of explicit language such as “leaping”, “wedged under the front carriage”, “drag him from under the carriage” and “cleaning blood off the train” in the headlines, text and captions. The Council considers that this language together with the photographs would contribute to some readers experiencing some offence and distress. However the Council considers it was not such as to contribute to substantial offence and distress. Accordingly, the publication did not breach General Principle 6.
The publication, in deciding whether to report the attempted suicide, did not try to contact appropriate relatives or close friends for consent. Although the Council accepts that reporting on the public transport disruption was in the public interest, this public interest could have been served without reporting the incident as an attempted suicide. Accordingly, the publication breached Specific Standard 3 on Coverage of Suicide.
The Council accepts that the public interest justified the reporting of the location of the incident given its relevance to the resulting public transport disruption. However, the Council considers it was not sufficiently in the public interest to publish the method of the attempted suicide. Accordingly, the publication breached Specific Standard 5 on Coverage of Suicide.
The Council considers that the use of explicit language to describe the accident and its aftermath in the headlines, text and captions together with the photographs themselves gave undue prominence to the attempted suicide rather than the disruption to public transport. In doing so, the publication did not exercise special sensitivity and moderation in reporting the incident and breached Specific Standard 7 on Coverage of Suicide.
Note: If you or someone close to you requires personal assistance, please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication)
This Adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
Publications must take reasonable steps to:
General Principle 6 – Avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.
This Adjudication also applies the following Specific Standards on Coverage of Suicide.
Specific Standard 3 – In deciding whether to report an individual instance of suicide, consideration should be given to whether at least one of the following criteria is satisfied:
(a) clear and informed consent has been provided by appropriate relatives or close friends; or
(b) reporting the death as suicide is clearly in the public interest.
Specific Standard 5 – The method and location of a suicide should not be described in detail (e.g., a particular drug or cliff) unless the public interest in doing so clearly outweighs the risk, if any, of causing further suicides. This applies especially to methods or locations which may not be well known by people contemplating suicide.