A new Taiwan law bars news media from reporting different kinds of information about suicides, including methods used.
Limits on media reporting are aimed at reducing the number of people who try to kill themselves. Taiwan officials say about 7,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 19 attempted suicide in 2018. That number is 19 percent above the world average, notes the island’s Ministry of Health and Welfare.
Under the new Suicide Prevention Act, newspapers, websites and television stations can be fined up to about $33,000 for showing pictures or videos of suicides. They also can be fined for reporting details of suicide methods or explaining how to buy tools for suicide. Even explaining why an individual might have committed suicide can lead to punishment.
The act cleared its public consultation period last week. Taiwan’s government can now make changes as it wishes or enforce the law in its current form.
Wu Chia-yi is with the National Taiwan University’s College of Medicine. Wu said that suicides normally go up in Taiwan for three months following reports that identify famous people who killed themselves, as well as how and where they died.
“According to our clinical experience and some of our interaction with patients, we've discovered that the more detailed info, the more influential it is,” Wu said.
Taiwan’s four major daily newspapers and many websites currently report on famous people who take their own lives as well as other unusual suicides. The stories may go into great detail.
Cédric Alviani heads the East Asia office of the group Reporters Without Borders. He said he understands what Taiwan officials are trying to do. But he thinks the law will limit the media's ability to get the story right.
He said, "We perfectly understand that it is their duty to try and bring improvements to the society and address that terrible society problem that is suicide and especially suicide of teenagers,” he said. “However, the solution they propose...is not a solution.”
New Zealand is the only place that has a similar law, Alviani added. In that country, the media cannot report a suicide's method without the medical examiner’s permission.
In other places, media companies follow World Health Organization (WHO) guidance. WHO officials suggest avoiding "explicit description" of methods, details of where people died and "undue repetitions" of suicide stories.
Restrictions on suicide reporting could open the door for other kinds of media restrictions, notes Joanna Lei, head of the Chunghua 21st Century research group in Taiwan.
"I see this as a social responsibility of the media,” Lei said. “It should not be legislated.”
Reporters Without Borders said Taiwan's government should better organize the media and talk to news operations about “ethics.”
Taiwan’s major media currently take down social media posts if experts ask them to, Wu said.
Most newspapers in Taiwan limit their coverage of suicides, but still put major cases on their front pages, said Fang Chun-kai, director of the Suicide Prevention Center at Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei.
He suggests putting reports about suicide with other “society news” and away from the day’s top stories.
I'm Ashley Thompson.
Ralph Jennings reported on this story for VOANews.com. George Grow adapted his report for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
consultation – n. the action of officially discussing something
according – adv. as stated by or in
clinical – adj. Related to the treatment of patients
info – n. short for the word information
address – v. to speak to a person or group
explicit – adj. cleared stated and in much detail
repetition – n. the action of repeating something
page – n. one side on a piece of paper, commonly in a book or newspaper
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