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Media have been warned to take care in reporting suicide... a lesson that seems to have been lost on makers of The Fall

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 29/10/2016

Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) in The Fall
Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) in The Fall

The media, especially newspapers, have to follow strict guidelines when it comes to reporting suicide. The Independent Press Standards Organisation and the Samaritans have both issued advice to editors, calling on them to ensure that their outlets report suicide as sensitively as possible, and with as few details as possible, to avoid copy-cat deaths or instilling the idea in someone at a time of crisis that this could be the solution to their problems.

Obviously producers of dramas are not under the same instruction, as last night's finale of The Fall demonstrated. It concluded with the graphic and somewhat disturbing suicide of the main character played by Jamie Dornan.

There were other explicit scenes of violence in the episode, but those were more understandable given that Dornan's character is a serial killer.

The BBC defended the suicide scene, citing that audience expectations had been managed carefully, that warnings had been given before the episode began and that it was broadcast after the watershed.

None of those would have diminished the impact of the graphic scenes on impressionable viewers. And this newspaper, for example, would have been roundly lambasted if it carried graphic details of a suicide.

Of course, dramatists have to be given a certain artistic licence and a drama by definition must include drama. It is also right to point out that The Fall, which included Hollywood star Gillian Anderson among its cast, is one of the most successful dramas to be shot in Northern Ireland and set in the province. It has won widespread praise and high audiences and has been a terrific showcase for the province's film and television industry.

Yet there must be some concern at how the lead character's death was depicted. Suicide, particularly among young men, is a big problem in Northern Ireland and it is right that it is handled as sensitively as possible. Suicide, by definition, is always a tragedy, but that message may have got lost last night in The Fall.

Belfast Telegraph

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