Reporters Without Borders concerned new suicide prevention law could affect media freedom

Freedom of information NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare to amend a regulation that RSF believes could prevent media from covering suicide cases.

RSF made the call in an article published on March 6 ahead of a March 10 deadline on public consultation over the new Suicide Prevention Act.

The new law includes articles designed to prevent sensationalist reporting that may create copycat suicides, particularly among teenagers and youth.

RSF believes that some of these regulations “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.”  Cédric Alviani, head of the RSF East Asia Bureau, was quoted by RSF.

Alviani then recommended the government “concentrates its actions on promoting ethics and good practices in journalism.”

Article 16 of the Suicide Prevention Act, passed in June, 2019, states that media including print, radio, television, and Internet “may not report or contain the following matters:

1. Messages that tutor suicide methods or instigate, lure, or provoke people to engage in suicidal behavior;
2. Detailed descriptions of the suicide method and cause of a suicidal person;
3. Texts, audios, images, or videos that may induce people to engage in suicidal behavior;
4. Information about the sales of toxic substances or other lethal suicide tools;
5. Other circumstances, as deemed by the central competent authority, sufficient to encourage suicidal behaviors. “

Breaching the regulations could subject the offending media source with fines of between NT$100,000 and NT$1 million.

The RSF article noted that the suicide rate in Taiwan is 19% higher than the world average, and that more than 7,000 teenagers attempted suicide in 2018.

The international information rights watchdog, RSF, opened its first Asia office in Taiwan in 2017, after scrapping plans to headquarter in Hong Kong because “China poses the biggest threat to press freedom.”

Cover picture: Hong Kong Free Press.

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