News & Updates

DOH issues guidelines for ethical and responsible reporting of suicide in media and films

The Department of Health (“DOH”) has issued guidelines for media practitioners to ensure ethical and responsible reporting and portrayal of suicide in media and films.

In its recently issued Administrative Order No. 2022-0004 (“A.O. No. 2022-0004”), the DOH seeks to reduce the incidence of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts by ensuring “responsible and ethical reporting and proper handling of suicide.” This measure was based on research cited in A.O. No. 2022-0004 suggesting that the “content of suicide reporting in media has associations with the suicide rates in the population,” and that “responsible reporting of suicide may likewise contribute to the prevention of suicide.”

The DOH aims to fulfill its objective by initiating capacity development, activities, and other assistance both at the institution-level and practitioner-level.

At the institution level, which covers media outlets, companies, organizations and other relevant stakeholders, A.O. No. 2022-0004 specifically provides the following guidelines:

  • ·     These institutions are encouraged to adopt and utilize the resources and materials to be developed by the DOH or “to develop their own that are in line with the principles and guidelines set out” in A.O. No. 2022-0004.
  • ·         These institutions are encouraged to “ensure that their institutions have a policy and capacity development activities in place to enable the responsible and ethical reporting and portrayal of suicide in media.
  • ·   These institutions are encouraged to “ensure the provision of psychosocial support for employees and practitioners, who may be adversely affected in the process of developing suicide-related contents, and other stakeholders involved in the process.”

On the other hand, capacity development of practitioner-level covers news outlets, radio stations, journalists, citizen journalists, and other media practitioners reporting suicide-related contents. To promote practitioner-level safeguards and practices, A.O. No. 2022-0004 encourages media practitioners, among others, to:

  • ·         “Provide reliable information on suicide and suicide prevention;”
  • ·         “Be certain of the facts of the incident;”
  • ·          “Avoid describing the details of suicide;”
  • ·          “Include resources, help lines, for mental health and support services in their reporting;”
  • ·         “Be cautious when interviewing persons bereaved by suicide;”
  • ·         “Consult mental health professionals prior to reporting.”

A.O. No. 2022-0004 also enjoins media practitioners to observe the relevant provisions of Republic Act No. 10173 or the Data Privacy Act in reporting suicide-related contents. For this reason, A.O. No. 2022-0004 discourages media practitioners “from using the names and photographs of the person suspected or confirmed to have died by suicide” and from using personal and sensitive information that can identity the person who died.

Under the Data Privacy Act, a “personal information” refers to any information from which ‘the identity of an individual is apparent or can be reasonably and directly ascertained.” On the other hand, sensitive personal information includes, among others, the individual’s race, ethnic origin, marital status, age, health, and education. 

The Data Privacy Act penalizes with fine and imprisonment any malicious disclosure or unauthorized disclosure of personal information, as well as the improper processing of personal information and sensitive personal information.

Hence, A.O No. 2022-0004 warns media practitioners that use of names or photographs and other personal information of persons who are suspected or confirmed to have died by suicide shall be subject to the relevant provisions of the Data Privacy Act, and that prior consent from legal representative of the person who died must first be obtained.

The DOH will continuously monitor the implementation of the provisions of A.O. No. 2022-0004 to ensure adherence by media practitioners. A.O. No. 2022-0004 dated 01 March 2022 will take effect 15 days after its publication in a newspaper of general circulation.

For questions, particularly on data privacy, please contact:

Ramon Manolo A. Alcasabas

Partner, Competition Law and Data Privacy Practice