MPhil Completion Seminar Aug 13 2020

Media reporting of Robin Williams' suicide

Presenter: Professor Jane Pirkis

Thursday 13th August 9.00am-10.00am
Via Zoom

This presentation will describe three studies that examined the nature and impact of Australian media reports of Robin Williams’ suicide. Collectively, these studies showed that local newspaper reporting of Robin Williams’ suicide was largely consistent with Australia’s Mindframe guidelines. Despite this, there were increases in suicides in the immediate aftermath of his death, which is obviously a negative outcome. There were also increases in calls to helplines, which may be interpreted either as negative (i.e., suggesting that people’s levels of distress and feelings of suicidality were heightened) or positive (i.e., suggesting that people who might have otherwise been influenced to harm themselves called a helpline instead). It may be that Australians were exposed to reports that contravened safe reporting recommendations, particularly via overseas media social media and/or that some Australian reports may have had unhelpful overarching narratives, despite largely adhering to the Mindframe guidelines. The Mindframe guidelines constitute international best practice but consideration should be given to whether certain recommendations within them should be further reinforced and whether more nuanced information about how stories should be framed could be provided.

Professor Jane Pirkis is the Director of the Centre for Mental Health at the University of Melbourne. She has worked in the suicide prevention field for nearly 25 years and has a particular interest in reporting and portrayal of suicide in news and entertainment media. She is Vice President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), and was a founding co-Chair of IASP’s Suicide and the Media Special Interest Group. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Crisis, and recently co-edited The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention.

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