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Kate Spade was an American fashion designer and entrepreneur. Kate was the founder of the designer brand Kate Spade New York. On the 5th of June 2018, Kate Spade was found dead by suicide in her apartment in New York. Kate’s housekeeper had discovered her body at around 10 a.m. Spade was 55 years old and she left behind her husband, Andy Spade and Bea their thirteen-year-old daughter. Kate’s death was all over major media houses including the Daily Mail, CNN and the New York Times amongst others. The aim of this paper is to identify some of the ethical issues that may have come up during the reporting of this suicide by the Daily Mail and provide recommendations on how the ethical dilemmas would have been solved in an ideal scenario.
Ethical Issues in Daily Mail
One of the ethical dilemmas that the Daily Mail faced was revealing too much information regarding the suicide, some of which was sensitive. On 6th
June 2018, a report from the Daily Mail stated that Kate Spade an American fashion designer had hanged herself using a scarf in her Manhattan home while her husband was in another room. The report further stated that Kate had left a suicide note to inform her thirteen-year-old daughter that it was not her fault that Kate had committed suicide. On 7th June 2018, the Daily Mail further stated that the note had informed Bea that she should not feel guilty about the suicide and that she should talk to her father about it (Spargo and Parry, 2018).
The Associated Press Stylebook is one of the guidelines that regulate mass communication. The AP Stylebook states clearly that ‘suicide stories when written, should not go into detail about the methods used (Daniszweski, 2018).’ The Daily Mail failed to observe this guideline as they clearly stated the object that Kate used to commit the suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also conducted a research to identify how reporting of suicide cases affects the bereaved family members. The research identified that reports that contain details on the methods used to commit suicide cause a contagion of suicides especially amongst the vulnerable individuals (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2018). Kate’s close family members including her husband and her daughter were vulnerable because they had faced psychological and emotional trauma. Furthermore, the exposure of the content of the note that Kate had left positioned them for ridicule and judgment from the press and members of the society which heightened their vulnerability. Therefore, Daily Mail failed to consider the impact that their reporting would have on Kate’s close family members.
The AP Stylebook also requires that media stations do not use key terms in their headings that can attract vulnerable people (Daniszweski, 2018). Daily Mail used the word ‘suicide’ multiple times when reporting on Kate’s incidence (Spargo and Parry, 2018). The utilitarian ethical theory suggests that the media should provide information that considers the betterment of the entire society (Gordon, 2012, p. 52). The Utilitarian approach to ethics focuses on what is right and wrong based on the consequences of the actions of various media stations (Bowen, 2013, p. 121). The utilitarian theory challenges media stations to engage in actions that move beyond the scope of their individual interests to take account of the needs of other people in the society. The report that Daily Mail gave was not in line with the expectations of this theory. First, the use of the word ‘suicide’ posed a risk for individuals with suicidal thoughts who may have been reading the report which gave details of the method used to cause death. Secondly, Kate was a well-known fashion designer who must have been considered an icon. The use of the word suicide ruined her reputation and possibly that of her brand which may last forever even after her death.
In an ideal scenario, a report minimising the prominence of the story would have been given. First, the report would not provide details of her close family members as they were vulnerable at the moment. Secondly, the report would not include the method that Kate used to commit suicide including mentioning the note she left behind and its content. In an ideal scenario, the use of the word ‘found dead’ would have been preferred as opposed to ‘suicide.’
The Daily Mail exploited Kate’s personal event through in-depth coverage of sensational information. Daily Mail failed to consider the consequences of its reporting and the harm it would have on the bereaved family members and other vulnerable individuals in the society. Media reports should adhere to the guidelines posted by the AP Stylebook when providing information on suicide cases. Media reports on sensitive information such as Kate’s death should seek to benefit the society as opposed to meeting the selfish interests of the press.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2018. Learning more about suicide: Responsible reporting. [Online]
Available at: https://afsp.org/about-suicide/for-journalists/
[Accessed 27 August 2018].
Bowen, S., 2013. Using classic social media cases to distill ethical guidelines for digital engagement. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 28(2), pp. 119-133.
Daniszweski, J., 2018. How and when we report on suicides. [Online]
Available at: https://blog.ap.org/behind-the-news/how-and-when-we-report-on-suicides
[Accessed 27 August 2018].
Gordon, D., 2012. Controversies in media ethics. 1st ed. New York: Routledge Publishers.
Spargo, C. and Parry, H., 2018. Kate Spade killed herself 'after her husband demanded a divorce and moved out' as her sister says she suffered from manic depression for years and was obsessed with Robin Williams' suicide. [Online]
Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5808813/Kate-Spade-dead-Park-Avenue-apartment-apparent-suicide.html
[Accessed 27 August 2018].
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