Sat, Aug 26, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Media accused of causing an increase in suicide rate

DISTURBING A media watchdog urged the media to be more responsible in reporting suicide cases, citing some alarming statistics and slamming sensationalist coverage

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

News coverage of suicide cases is all too often sensationalized and is causing domestic suicide rates to increase, a media watchdog said yesterday.

The Broadcasting Development Fund, a non-governmental organization, held a press conference to discuss what it said was a lack of professionalism in the media regarding suicide coverage.

"Suicide rates go up noticeably in the 10 or so days after a report of suicide is aired or published," said Lin Geng-li (林耿立), a research fellow at the Taiwan Suicide Prevention Center and a member of the panel at yesterday's conference.

Lin added that the sensational manner in which suicides are often reported in the media is driving vulnerable youth to take their own lives.

Chuang Po-chung (莊伯仲), a professor of journalism at Chinese Culture University, presented a study of media coverage of suicide cases in June and last month at the conference.

Chuang told reporters that the act of suicide is often glorified for political purposes by local TV networks. He cited a CTiTV report on June 4 that he said depicted the alleged suicide of Chen Chin-chu (陳金珠), a 34-year-old woman, as a courageous act of civil disobedience against President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

Chen Chin-chu's body was discovered on the roof of Taipei City Hall last June in an advanced state of decomposition. Local media reported that she had died at least six months before her corpse was found.

The circumstances of her death are unclear, but she was described by those who knew her as a diehard pan-blue supporter who was a vocal critic of the president after the March 19 shooting incident in 2004.

"All too often the media make assumptions regarding the reasons why people kill themselves, or boil a suicide down to just one reason," Chuang said, adding that such an oversimplification was unprofessional.

Chuang also presented a slide show featuring photos of gruesome suicide scenes that had been published recently on the front pages of the Chinese-language Apple Daily, a tabloid newspaper.

He criticized such coverage as inappropriate and disrespectful to the families of the deceased.

Tsai Su-ling (蔡素玲), Deputy Director-General of the Bureau of Medical Affairs in the Department of Health, said that such sensational coverage can make a deep, lasting impression on youth.

"The gruesome details of suicide cases influence youth who are on the edge and already considering suicide. They see such reports and are sometimes driven over the edge," Tsai said.

She called on media to reflect on how their unnecessarily morbid coverage is impacting on youngsters, and be more professional.

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