'Media coverage may be partly to blame for copycat tragedies'

September 3, 2008 23:21
2 minute read.

The media's coverage of the recent spate of young children being killed by their family members contributes to the 'copycat' phenomenon, but at the same time, journalists can't ignore such extreme cases, say experts on media studies. Dr. Yariv Ben-Eliezer, director of media studies at the Lauder School of Government at IDC, Herzliya, said the media, with its obsessive coverage of these stories, reinforces such behavior on the part of people who have a tendency toward child abuse. Similar waves of suicides have been reported in the past, leading to the decision by the media not to cover them. "Of course this 'epidemic wave' is coincidental, but there is no doubt that the coverage in the media can remove inhibitions among people who have thoughts of doing something so awful. The media can't ignore these cases, but it needs to find a way to cover stories like these with moderation," Ben-Eliezer said. Several editors at Israeli media outlets refused to comment on whether coverage of these problematic cases should be limited. Prof. Hillel Schmid, director of the Haruv Institute for Developing Advanced Programs for Treating Abused Children in Jerusalem, said now was the time to strengthen the social nets and bring the supervision of other "social agents" such as neighbors, teachers, doctors, nurses etc. back into homes, especially those with youngsters under the age of five who aren't enrolled in formal educational frameworks. "Israeli authorities did such good job using the media to educate the public not to pick protected flowers, but it seems to be failing to educate the public [on] the importance of reporting on abused children, whose lives may be at risk," Schmid said. Dr. Moshe Almagor, a senior clinical psychologist at the University of Haifa, said these copycat waves could be mitigated by programs for training parents. "The reports on the recent cases could turn people's thoughts to action at a certain point of helplessness. We see it [the copycat phenomenon] in teens' suicides, in cases of eating disorders among teenagers and more. This phenomenon, whose professional name is 'social contagion,' is well-known and almost predictable," Almagor said. Clinical psychologist Rami Bar-Giora said it was important to answer youngsters' questions about the news reports of parents killing their own children. "Turning off the TV is not the answer, because they will hear about it from someone else" and this could have a detrimental effect on them, he said. "Parents should not be afraid to speak to their children, explain [to] them what happened and make it clear that they are willing to answer all their questions," Bar-Giora said. MK Nadia Hilou (Labor), chairman of the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child, joined the calls for the media to withhold details on these homicides. "I have no doubt that if this media frenzy continues, another murder will take place. Publications like these motivate crazy, insane people to implement their monstrous thoughts," she said. The panel she heads, together with the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, will hold an emergency meeting next Wednesday to discuss the influence the media coverage had on the murderers. The prime minister's adviser for social affairs, Vered Sweed, announced on Wednesday a project to provide newly arrived immigrants with hot line numbers, information on where to turn for help, psychological assistance and a list of their rights, in all the relevant languages. "Unfortunately, many new immigrants come here alone and they have no social support nets. They find themselves facing too many things completely on their own, and that can be prevented," Sweed said.

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