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Hacked Off urges press standards head to condemn Robin Williams newspaper coverage


By John McCarthy | Media editor

August 13, 2014 | 5 min read

Hacked Off has called for Sir Alan Moses, the head of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), to condemn “much of today’s” Robin Williams suicide coverage after the group accused several publications of breaching the Editors' Code.

The campaign group said Sir Alan Moses should send a message to newspapers which it believed had covered Williams' death poorly, including the Star, the Mirror, the Metro, the Sun and Daily Mail, in a bid to raise media standards.

Sir Alan Moses chairs the IPSO committee

The statement comes after mental health charity 'Mind' complained that several newspapers ignored information it gave them on how to report the suicide responsibly and without encouraging copycat tragedies.

Offended viewers yesterday complained after TalkSport presenter Alan Brazil said live on air he “had no sympathy” for Williams.

This was followed by a Channel 4 apology after a scene from 'Good Morning Vietnam', featuring Williams saying “Why don’t they get a rope and hang me,” was broadcast in its news bulletin.

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Joan Smith, executive director of Hacked Off, said: “Much of today's coverage of the apparent suicide of Robin Williams is sensational and speculative. It is a clear breach of the Editors' Code which states ‘when reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used” and we call on Sir Alan Moses to condemn it.

“He has been in post long enough to be familiar with the guidance on reporting suicides, and he has a duty to remind editors of their responsibilities in this matter.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “We’re disappointed by reporting and headlines in many of today’s newspapers which contravene good practice set out by Samaritans guidance and Mind’s own advice.

“Mind issued a briefing to all newsdesks twice yesterday with information on how to report suicide in a responsible way as there is clear evidence that media coverage of suicide, particularly graphic language illustrating the method used, can lead to copycat deaths."

Farmer added: “We will be contacting newspapers individually to take forward our concerns as well as the Press Complaints Commission."

Writing for The Drum today, the media ethics lecturer Douglas Chalmers said several newspapers "got it wrong" in their coverage of Williams' death.

Chalmers wrote: "There is a clear difference however between the ‘public interest’, and the ‘interest of the public’ and I fear that these papers have ignored the guidelines in order to sell more copies as they believe this is pandering to an interest in society."

Hacked Off encouraged those upset by today's coverage to donate to the Samaritans charity group.

This comes after Hacked Off last month announced its intention to pressure advertisers into only backing publications which follow the Leveson code.

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