In August last year an 11-year-old
school boy took his own life. The boy, who lived in a small
Massachusetts community, was in fifth grade at the prestigious Andover
School. The local newspaper, the Eagle-Tribune, published a story about
the boy’s death but didn’t indicate how he died. That editorial
decision led to a torrent of emails, phone calls and letters to the
paper’s editor, William Ketter, who penned a column for the paper’s
opinion pages four days after the report on the boy’s death was

Mr Ketter’s op-ed piece was a brave piece of writing.
He told his readers that his decision not to publish the cause of the
boy’s death had been wrong. And, he observed, “Newspapers have long
been squeamish about suicide, for the same reason we don’t identify the
victims of sex crimes. There’s a traditional social stigma attached to
both even though there should not be.”

Now contrast Mr Ketter’s
bravery with the timidity shown by our national broadcaster, the ABC,
earlier this year when it cut from a film a scene showing a 79-year-old
woman putting a plastic bag over her head.

Janine Hosking’s documentary, Mademoiselle and the Doctor, told the story of Lisette Nigot who met Philip Nitshcke and talked about how she might end her own life.

offending scene was shown in the context of a discussion about the
options of suicide that Lisette had considered. The “plastic bag” scene
was brief and symbolic. It was not in any sense a pictorial essay in
the methodology of death by a plastic bag.

But it was all too much for the presenter of the late night ABC TV program, Compass.
The program’s presenter, Geraldine Doogue, cut that scene from airing
when she presented the documentary. According to Ms Doogue, she “was
straight away concerned about some of the scenes with the so-called
‘plastic bag option’. I can’t remember ever before being so concerned
about a sequence in a Compass program … this sequence clearly, in my
view, breached our editorial codes and responsibility as a public

Ms Doogue’s views were supported by the managing director of the ABC, Russell Balding, who would not allow Media Watch to show the scene even though, on June 13 this year, it devoted a story to the matter.

you might say that there is a clear difference between the Andover
school boy case and that involving Mademoiselle and the Doctor. Well in
one sense there is – on the one hand we have the pictorial portrayal of
a possible method of death, and on the other the failure to publish in
print the reason for death.

But a deeper analysis of the two cases reveals a distinct difference in media attitudes’ towards death by suicide.

Read the full story on the website here.