Written evidence submitted by Samaritans


Media Bill Consultation: Call for Evidence - Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Media Bill written evidence



Samaritans is the UK’s largest suicide prevention charity, with more than 200 branches across the UK and Ireland Samaritans answers a call for help every 10 seconds and in 2022 there wasn’t a single second that our listeners weren’t on the phone.

We welcome the opportunity to respond to this consultation. We have a long-standing and widely respected programme of work with journalists, programme makers and media organisations to support responsible reporting and portrayals of suicide and self-harm. Research evidence shows that certain types of media depictions, such as explicitly describing a method, sensational and excessive reporting, can lead to imitational suicidal behaviour among vulnerable people. In contrast, coverage describing a person or character coming through a suicidal crisis can serve as a powerful testimony to others that this is possible and can encourage vulnerable people to seek help. The proposals included in the Media Bill will help to bring video-on-demand services, which have become an incredibly popular form of entertainment in recent years, up to the same standards that we have come to expect from other traditional broadcasters.


What should be the specific criteria for designating an on-demand programme service as Tier 1?

The risk of harm should be considered when designating Tier 1 services. Services which broadcast suicide and self-harm content should be designated as Tier 1 due to the sensitivities and risks associated with covering these topics in the media. Care needs to be taken with how these issues are portrayed, as viewers may identify closely with characters, which can increase the risk of suicide contagion. Research has linked certain types of suicide coverage with an increase in suicide rates, particularly where methods are depicted, or suicide is romanticised or sensationalised[1]. Due to the risk of contagious effects, it is vital that any service which may show suicide and self-harm related content is designated as Tier 1 as the potential for harm is significant. Since suicide and self-harm content affects all people of all ages, services portraying it should always be designated as Tier 1, regardless of audience size or composition.


Are the requirements for the Tier 1 standards code proportionate?

Yes, the requirements are proportionate. We particularly support the inclusion of the following ‘matters to be taken into account’:

‘(a) the likely expectation of potential audiences as to the nature of the content of programmes included in particular Tier 1 services;

(b) the degree of harm or offence likely to be caused by the inclusion of any particular sort of content, whether in programmes generally or in particular kinds of programmes;

(c) the extent to which, and the ways in which, information about the nature of the content of particular kinds of programmes or of particular programmes can be given in a way that enables individuals to make choices about whether they (or others for whom they have responsibility) view or continue to view that content’.

When designing a code for video-on-demand services, the inclusion of these three matters is important for regulating how suicide and self-harm content is portrayed. As mentioned earlier, portrayals of methods, romanticising and sensationalising suicide, self-harm and suicidal behaviours can lead to serious harm, particularly though contagious effects. For this reason, it is imperative that consideration of degree of harm is a requirement for the Tier 1 standards code. Requiring consideration for how information about the content is communicated is also important. This will enable viewers make informed decisions about the content that they consume and avoid content which they may find distressing or triggering. Whilst it is important that viewers are able to make informed decisions about viewing suicide and self-harm content, the most important way to minimise harm is to ensure that unsafe portrayals of suicide and self-harm (particularly depictions of methods) are not shown by video-on-demand content at all.