On Tuesday March 10th, the Ministry of Health and Welfare of the Republic of China (Taiwan) will close the public consultation on the enforcement rules of the Suicide Prevention Act. The document includes dispositions aimed at deterring sensationalistic reporting on suicide, a common phenomenon in Taiwan that is said to create copycat effects among teenagers. It plans to ban the mention of suicide cases on the front pages of media outlets and restrict the possibility for them to publish suicide-related contents.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Minister of Health, Mr. Chen Shih-chung, to amend this regulation as certain dispositions clearly go against the public’s right to be informed.
“The focus should not be on preventing media from covering the topic of suicide but on encouraging them to approach it in the most responsible way possible.” says Cédric Alviani, head of the RSF East Asia Bureau, who insists that “If the government wishes to combat possible abuses, we recommend that it concentrates its action on promoting ethics and good practices in journalism.”
The Suicide Prevention Act, passed in May 2019, prohibits “tutoring suicide methods or instigating, luring, or provoking people to engage in suicidal behavior.” Article 13 of the enforcement rules currently states that suicide-related materials should not “appear on newspapers’ front-pages or on websites’ homepages”, that “the media should not post or print pictures, illustrations or videos of suicides or show web links to content about suicides” nor disclose “ the exact location or address” of suicides, with a penalty of up to one million New Taiwan Dollars (approximately Euro 30,000).
The current suicide rate in Taiwan is approximately 19% higher than the world average. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, over 7,000 teenagers attempted to commit suicide in 2018 in Taiwan.
In the 2019 RSF World Press Freedom Index, Taiwan ranks 42nd out of 180 countries and territories.