Reporting death on the Underground?
May 29, 2012 4:02 AM   Subscribe

Is there a policy of not reporting suicides (maybe accidents) on the London Underground?

Yesterday, on my way home around 1.30 my train was informed that we would not be stopping at Oxford Circus because of a 'person under the train'. The incident happened on the Bakerloo line and as a result Oxford Circus was shut for several hours. I've found no report of the incident on any of the major news sites.

The first time I heard an announcement about someone under a train I was shocked that it was announced at all, but didn't bother to check the news. Someone told me they don't usually bother to report it because 'it happens so often', but I wonder if there isn't a media blackout to prevent other 'sensational' suicides.
posted by Partario to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it is quite plausible that there are simply too many to make it worth reporting in the media. According to Wikipedia, there were 80 in 2011. If reported, that would average out to a couple a week. Something that happens so often isn't really "news".

The wikipedia entry did say that suicides increased measurably after they were reported in the media early on, too, so maybe they stopped doing so for that reason back then.
posted by lollusc at 4:12 AM on May 29, 2012

Looking quickly it als seems that it does get reported at least occasionally. And yeah the Wikipedia on it, while not addressing your question directly, is worth reading.
posted by edgeways at 4:17 AM on May 29, 2012

There's also a fear of publicizing suicides because of the suicide copy-cat phenomenon. There's not a lot of news in individual suicides unless it's someone famous, beyond the goulish and/or personal interest, so the public health upside of limiting reporting wins out.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:32 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Frankly, I am surprised that there was any public address statement of "passenger under the train" to begin with. I work in urban transit, and we are instructed to use a phrase such as "passenger injury" so as not to cause alarm or panic. And yes, in most large urban rail systems, there are 1-2 persons struck by trains each week, due to suicides, accidents, intoxication, or some combination. Many die, some live with varying levels of injury/maiming, some are actually unhurt. Rarely, though occasionally, there is a homicide or attempted homicide by train. Homicides are more likely to make the news. So are accidents of a particularly unusual nature.
posted by RRgal at 4:40 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

umm, I didn't mean that one could be unhurt if actually struck by a train; but occasionally, someone jumps into the roadbed and ends up between the rails with the train passing over them but not making contact.
posted by RRgal at 4:44 AM on May 29, 2012

Frankly, I am surprised that there was any public address statement of "passenger under the train" to begin with.

It is so commonplace that it causes neither alarm nor panic. (50 people die, but another 50 people survive, so it's actually one of these every 3 days.) What it is actually met by is irritation from other passengers. Letting them know it isn't a mechanical fault actually buys the most patience you can buy.

If you're interested, both the 2003 and fantastic 2012 TV series had episodes covering this. The 2012 is a little more transparent about the staff and management.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:05 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a newspaper reporter. There's a convention in news (in the UK at least) that you don't report suicides or suicide attempts of any kind, Tube or otherwise. There have been studies that show a rise in the number of suicides following news reports of them.

Occasionally there are exceptions, for example, a while ago we had someone who sat on the window ledge of a hotel in the city centre for some time before jumping. The road was closed, it was rush hour, the city centre ground to a standstill, everyone was wondering what was going on. We couldn't really not report it at all. But generally, if there's a death, the police will tell us if it was a suicide and we'll drop it (or sometimes, rather than volunteering the information, they'll say it's non-suspicious and if we put the question "Was it suicide?" they'll confirm that).

And yeah, also sadly in London tube jumpers are pretty frequent, so not particularly newsworthy. Especially as there are few prospects of finding anything out about the victim in a city that size.
posted by penguin pie at 5:27 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

If a Tube train is delayed for 15 minutes or more for a reason within TFL's control, it has to provide a fare refund. If the delay is outside its control, including "third party action", no refund is due. So by announcing the delay is due to "a person under a train", this lets people know that they're not entitled to a fare refund.

I remember being shocked the first time I heard the "person under a train" announcement but when you hear it regularly, you get used to it. I always think that, however much I'm inconvenienced, my day is turning out a hell of a lot better than the person under the train.
posted by essexjan at 6:39 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's well-known that the Toronto Transit Commission doesn't want jumpers reported by the media to avoid copycats. Also, it's widely believed that the standard announcement in our system "Emergency at Track Level" means "Someone jumped in front of a train", though I'm not actually certain that's true -- it may also refer to medical emergencies on the platform.

So, no info specific to London, but here's an article talking about the TTC perspective on the issue.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:55 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm entirely unsurprised if there is an official policy, as this is common -- for example, the authority running the Golden Gate Bridge took great umbrage at the documentary filmmaker who hoodwinked them to make The Bridge a few years ago. This sort of thing is very problematic for them, especially because there is the copycat phenomenon with public suicides.

As for the media, I know my local paper made a very deliberate change a few years ago to not reporting private deaths unless there was something public and newsworthy, such as a police standoff. I recently mentioned here about how when I was in junior high an acquaintance had hanged himself, and that got about six column inches, which must have been wrenching for the family. But back then the media was much more about "we report, you deal/decide/etc." Now they have greater respect for privacy, and actually stand in the way of what they once might have called the public's right to know. Times change.

I have to agree there's no real value to reporting this except in how it might create a delay, and even then the reason isn't all that important, as many other things could cause the same delay. It's just prurient interest.
posted by dhartung at 11:30 PM on May 29, 2012

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