Media aptly promoting Blue Whale in Himachal, flaunting all ethical guidelines
Shimla: Researchers in the field of psychology have thrown significant light on the impact of news of suicide on other vulnerable people in the society. Based on researches, the World Health Organization (WHO) has also laid some guidelines that the journalist should keep in mind while reporting news related to suicide, especially those related to celebrities.
These guidelines are based on studies carried on Imitative suicidal behaviours as a response to reportage or portrayal of suicide in news or entertainment media.
However, media hardly cares for these ethics or guidelines to make it more sensational. The way of reporting is only fueling curiosity about this concept among teenagers, who are already prone to high-risk taking behavior.
For instance, in Bagadi village of Deha-Balsan region of Shimla district, a 10-years-old boy said to have ended his life on September 13. Parents found a paper on which the boy had reportedly left a suicide note. The note said “No one loves me”, therefore, “I am going away”.
The parents declined to file any police complaint and did not permit an autopsy.
So far there is no evidence of Blue Whale challenge. We are investigating the case,
said SP Shimla Soumya Sambasivan. However, she suspected involvement of the game. Therefore it is still a suspected case.
As per a report published by Hindustan Times, the father said his son was not well, and he had made a suicide attempt earlier too.
However, the news channels and some national Hindi Dailies have already confirmed that the boy killed himself after playing what called the Blue Whale game. Though this concept has nothing to do with a whale hunting something or someone, the Daily has dedicated a complete page suggesting a unique theory. With a sensational infographic showing a scary aquatic organism with a tortoise clutched between its jaws, the Daily referred to the game as a daring “challenge”. The scary creature shown in the infographic is not even real. Moreover, the daily has also published the suicide note.
Through boxes, the Daily narrated the same old story of how children fall victim to this game. The Daily went on to say that the child hanged himself as a punishment for failing to solve some puzzles given to him by the curator. However, there are no facts or evidence to support claims made in the theory.
Surprisingly, the police have seized a mobile that the boy was using but did not confirm the presence of any sign that the boy killed himself after playing the game.
There is no sign on the arm and no sign of self-mutilation on his body.
As per the report published by HT, the police said
It wasn’t possible for him to play the game. He did not have access to either internet or mobile phone for long. However, for the last few days, he used to play some game on the mobile phone of a carpenter working in their house.
The police said it is yet to investigate the case before it could confirm any relation of the suicide with the sinister game.
Cautions for media in reporting suicides
According to WHO, media plays a significant role in encouraging pre-existing suicidal tendencies in vulnerable individuals like those suffering from depression, emotional stress, or some sort of mental health problems. Other studies and experts in the field of psychology and psychiatry suggest that the extensive, prominent, sensationalist coverage including an explicit description of the method and spot of suicide cast a significant influence on vulnerable individuals.
Media reporting of suicide can lead to imitative suicidal behaviours. The imitation is more evident under some circumstances than others. It varies as a function of time, peaking within the first three days and leveling off by about two weeks, but sometimes lasting longer,
said the WHO report.
It is related to the amount and prominence of coverage, with repeated coverage and ‘high impact’ stories being most strongly associated with imitative behaviors
, it said.
At the same time media shares the responsibility of educating people, creating awareness regarding factors responsible for the majority of suicides like mental health, and encouraging vulnerable people to seek help and prevent suicides.
Cautions to be taken while reporting suicide
Some of the caution that journalists should take while reporting news related to suicide include:
- To avoid language which sensationalizes or normalizes suicide or present it as a solution to problems
- Avoid prominent placement and undue repetition of stories about suicide
- Avoid explicit description of the method used in a completed or attempted suicide
- Avoid providing detailed information about the site of a completed or attempted suicide
- Avoid using the word “suicide” in headlines
- Exercise cautions in using photographs on video footage
- Taking special caution in reporting celebrity suicides
- Show due consideration for people bereaved by suicide
- Provide information about where to seek help
- Use of sources of reliable information
Suggested Read for Media Persons
Media persons could go through a study titled “The influence of suggestion on suicide: Substantive and theoretical implications of the Werther effect” published by Phillips DP in American Sociological Review in 1974.
He had conducted this seminal study to compare the number of suicides occurring in the months in which a front-page article on suicide appeared in the (US) press with the number occurring in the months in which no such article appeared.
Prevention of suicide in children
The best prevention here appears to be giving more time to your children, at least enough to observe changes in their behavior, if any. The advisories are asking parents to reach a counselor if they observe symptoms like isolation, withdrawal from routine activities, and a decrease in the time that their children used to spend with them or the appetite.
If a child is already an introvert, then it must be ensured that he gets more time from parents to express his emotions. A friendly relationship would help bridge the communication gap between the teens and their parents.