The suppression of suicide

I have been intending to start a blog for some time but never quite got around to it. However, events over the past week compel me as a journalist, a media law tutor and an academic researcher to enter the fray. This post is intended as a primer for those who aren’t up to speed with those events.

Why have you decided to start writing a blog?
I’ve decided to start a blog because the events surrounding the suicide of a friend are being systematically supressed by a powerful PR company and the Irish state’s most respected newspaper.

Okay. Rewind. Who are we talking about her?
My friend’s name was Kate Fitzgerald, a 25-year-old PR consultant who worked for a company called the Communications Clinic, which is controlled by Terry Prone, a senior adviser to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and Tom Savage, the chairman of the RTE Authority.

No doubt they have been using their clout to promote mental health awareness after Kate’s death?
Sadly, not. They have set about systematically suppressing her story. A week ago, it was revealed that Kate’s effective suicide note took the form of an anonymous article in the Irish Times which appealed for greater understanding for people with depression among employers. The Communications Clinic promptly hit the roof and contacted the newspaper registering their displeasure about Kate’s article.

Of course the newspaper told them where to go stick their complaint?
No. They responded to the complaint by crudely editing Kate’s last words so the meaning of the article was completely changed. But the Communications Clinic remained dissatisfied and the Irish Times published a retraction of Kate’s article today arguing that her piece wasn’t factual.

Why? Surely that accuses Kate of being a liar?
The Irish Times apparently hacked at Kate’s article for ‘legal reasons’. It’s also presumably accusing Kate for lying for similar reasons. Oddly though, the Communications Clinic didn’t set their lawyers on them – it was all entirely voluntary on the newspaper’s part.

In terms of accusing Kate of being a liar, it does but there’s nothing that anyone can do about it. You see because she is dead, you can’t libel her under Irish defamation law. Effectively, her memory means less to the Irish Times than getting Terry Prone off their backs.

Is there a legitimate legal issue here?
Possibly – at an extreme stretch. Prone, Savage and their company seem to be arguing that the article should be suppressed due to jigsaw identification. This is a legal device which is rarely seen outside of rape cases. It basically means that the media shouldn’t publish two reports which juxtaposed together will lead to the revelation of the parties involved.

I suspect that the Communications Clinic are arguing that if you took Kate’s original article together with the subsequent piece in the Irish Times revealing her identity as the author of the original article, you might identify them and deem Kate’s views as damaging to their reputation.

Basically, they want the same anonymity as afforded to rape victims – but for a different reason.

What now?
The Press Ombudsman is the next step in the process. I am away at Kate’s memorial service today but I will post my views on where the Irish Times broke the press council code in due course.

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