Samaritans’ guidance shows where balance can be struck on stockpiling reports, editor says

Posted on: March 23, 2020 by Claire Meadows

Samaritans’ guidelines on responsible reporting of suicides could be a blueprint for media reports into stockpiling during the Covid-19 crisis, it has been suggested.

Writing in the New Statesman, Stephen Bush, Political Editor of the magazine, said that while supermarkets running out of items was undoubtedly a story, newspapers could look to the Samaritan’s guidance on balancing the public interest with not unintentionally ‘spreading fear’.

Bush’s comments come after it was questioned whether media reporting of stockpiling in the wake of the covid-19 crisis had exacerbated the situation and encouraged others to act in similar ways.

He said: “Stockpiling is a difficult topic for the media to cover because it’s a lot like a run on a bank. A bank running out of funds and becoming insolvent is a serious issue that is of public concern but the act of reporting it can trigger copycat behaviour. It can also, if wrongly reported, actually trigger a destabilising panic.”

Bush suggested that the widely-accepted guidelines by the Samaritans on the responsible reporting of suicide, could point to where a balance could be struck between the media continuing to report on a matter of public interest and not unintentionally prompting copycat behaviour.

He added: ”What should we do differently? As I say, it’s a challenge. The Little Waitrose in Vauxhall running out of food is a story and I don’t think we as journalists should pretend otherwise. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of another book: the Samaritans’ guidelines on how to report suicides. A suicide can, undoubtedly, be newsworthy and it should be covered. But the Samaritans’ guidelines, now near-universally observed in the media, are a good guide to balancing that public interest angle without spreading fear.

Bush also suggested that journalists could caveat stories on stockpiling with the assurance to readers that the UK food supply chain remained intact.

He added: “Perhaps as a start we ought to always mention in any story about stockpiling that the delivery of food into the UK continues as normal?”

Read the full piece in the New Statesman here