Don’t glorify suicideHa Kyoo-seob, president of the Seoul National Hospital and head of the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention, held an unexpected briefing at the press room of the Ministry of Health and Welfare yesterday. His description of the social repercussions of famous people’s suicides was shocking. After studying five cases of suicides of celebrities, researchers found that news reports on a star’s suicide lead to the deaths of 600 citizens on average. That rings a very loud alarm over how the press reports such deaths.
The way our media reports celebrity suicides has exceeded the permissible level and this was particularly so in their coverage of the suicide last Sunday of Cho Sung-min, a former Korean baseball star. Nearly all the broadcasters in Korea placed the report as the second to fourth most important news item. The next morning, educational and current affairs programs competed to extend air time for the news to 10 to 20 minutes. Some newspapers and Internet media, too, placed that report on their front pages or at the top of their news pages for several days in a row.
The media’s approach to Cho’s suicide exposed many problems as shown by their attempts to tell their audiences about the exact cause of his death and the condition of his body. Such reporting is intensified in college admissions season as the media stampede to report on suicides by students who were depressed about their scores in the National Scholastic Aptitude Test. The press must listen to Dr. Ha’s advice that juveniles who are exposed to such reports are tempted to kill themselves.
The media’s eagerness for celebrity suicides hasn’t changed. Many talk shows have dealt with suicide since Cho’s death. They are studded with senseless remarks from entertainers like, “I too tried to kill myself,” or “I took 90 sleeping pills to die,” or “I fully understand why Cho decided to commit suicide.” These remarks can create an atmosphere glorifying suicide and acknowledging it as an appropriate means to escape difficulties in life.
The suicide prevention association established media guidelines for suicides, which include a ban on packaging suicides as a romantic solution to problems, detailed explanations on ways to kill oneself, simplification of suicide causes and treating celebrity suicide as top news. If the press respect the guidelines, they will stop encouraging suicides. They should keep in mind a teenager’s confession: “Whenever I hear suicide reports, I am tempted to kill myself.”