Akeed – Rasha Salama
A total of 43 news items on six cases of child suicide have been published by media outlets and websites since the beginning of 2018.
These reports shared one thing: they broke the news but failed to follow-up on the story (with the exception of a case concerning two girls in Zarqa governorate). Not a single investigation on child suicide was carried out, according to a survey conducted by the Jordan Media Credibility Monitor “AKEED”.
Media outlets and websites alike replicated the same information, and the news was circulated for only 2-3 days following the incidents.
However, 10 of these reports said that three of the suicides were linked to the “Blue Whale” online game – although the Public Security Department (PSD) rejected the claim.
Among the major mistakes reporters make when covering suicide attempts is using photos and videos related to these attempts. Added to that, most do not dig deep into the subject, nor do they seek expert opinion. Information related to the child’s age and circumstances is also sometimes neglected.
Breaking and Replicating the News
Between June 11th- 21st, 2018, there were nine news items that replicated news of two girls who took their own lives using a scarf in Zarqa. Not a single report followed up on the cases or any related developments. Not one investigative report on minor suicide was published.
A girl who committed suicide in Northern Hashemi, also using a scarf, on July 8th, 2018 attracted the attention of websites and the media, with 11 items covering the news. Yet again, there were no follow-up stories. Social and education experts did not offer an interpretation either.
Most journalists selected an image of a scarf in their pieces, indicating the method of suicide.
Four news items linked between Tawjihi (the General Secondary Education Certificate Examination in Jordan) and the suicide of a minor who hanged herself at home in Aqaba on October 26th, 2018. Yet, all failed to report on the outcome of police investigation and to add new details - although there was a reference to a statement by a security source.
Four other items reported on a girl suspected of committing suicide by hanging herself in Irbid governorate on June 18th, 2018. Only some mentioned that the girl was from Al-Husn refugee camp in Irbid and that she was 15. Others said she is from Azmi el-Mufti refugee camp. Only one reporter provided details on the way the suicide was committed, which is considered a violation of professional ethics.
News of a child who committed suicide in Mafraq Governorate on March 10th, 2018 attracted a huge media interest, with 15 news items reporting the incident. Mafraq was highlighted in the headline. The same “minimal” details were provided in all these stories. No linkage was made between the incident and a similar incident reported in 2014. Only one news item linked between the suicide and the “Blue Whale” online game.
Against the failure of the local media to discuss the phenomenon, Arab media picked up the news and gave it a wider coverage. Catchy headlines were also used: “Mom I want to die,” or “How do We Face the Threat of Child Suicide before It is Too Late?” “Oppressed at Home and In School, Children Commit Suicide”, “Child Suicide… Rights Groups Fear an Increasing Phenomenon in Morocco.”
Blue Whale Game
Three news reports linked between the suicide of two girls in Zarqa and a boy in Mafraq and the Blue Whale game - reportedly responsible for many deaths - as per the game’s instructions.
The game reportedly consists of a series of tasks assigned to players by administrators including self-harming, and the final challenge requires players to commit suicide.
Ten reports, carried by the media and websites, raised the issue without presenting sufficient information. What is more, journalists did not include expert opinion to explain what the game is about or what its real impact is. Some articles only cited comments made by those who downloaded the game, mostly residing in non-Arab countries. One report provided a vague headline on the place where the suicides were committed - which turned out to be Tunisia not Jordan.
The game itself was extensively covered in the media as well as its responsibility for many suicides across the world, without any reference to suicides in Jordan. Others linked between the game and suspected cases locally. The reporter in one of these features interviewed teenagers who were about to join the game.
Although the PSD denied claims that the game was behind the two suicides in Zarqa, some reports built their stories based on this assumption. They further explained the danger of the game and attached a graphic photo of blood. Only one Arab media outlet followed suit; linking the suicides to the online game.
Dr. Ahmad Bani Hani: Journalists only Report the Story with no Follow-ups
Director of the National Center of Forensic Medicine, Dr. Ahmad Bani Hani, agrees with Akeed’s monitoring - which extended between January and September 22nd, 2018.
“Although I am keen to review what is published in the media, I have not found one single follow-up on the issue,” said the expert.
“For journalists, it is the scoop that matters; reporters do not look into measures that can help prevent suicides,” added Bani Hani.
As for the age group of children who take their own lives, the expert said that, “a distinction should be made between two age brackets: the first refers to children who are not yet fully cognizant of things, i.e. those who have not reached puberty - in which case death is not classified as suicide but as an accident.” He goes on to explain that children at this stage do not understand what suicide means.
“The second refers to children who have reached puberty, that is when children are aware of what they are doing, though they might have misconceptions,” he adds.
Bani Hani said he is not authorized to speak to the media in cases of suicide. “Journalists who cover suicide depend on their sources within the security apparatus or forensic medicine to get the scoop.”
“Nevertheless, not all details can be disclosed due to privacy issues and to ensure that the rights of all parties are protected. Publishing any information could harm the course of investigation in the cases that are still being investigated. ”
He elaborated that the role of the forensic medicine is restricted “to examining the corpse, injuries, and any other signs that support the assumption that death was the result of suicide.”
The rest, said Bani Hani is left to the concerned security department.
A study conducted by the expert this year found that a total of 82 suicides were committed in Jordan, seven of which involved children. This compares with 6 cases monitored by Akeed.
One of those that took their own lives was nine years old while the others were between 15 and 17. Self-strangulation was the most common method of suicide, followed by setting oneself on fire, self- poisoning, the use of a firearm, and jumping from height. Death was caused by the use of a sharp instrument in one case.
Bani Hani had reservations on revealing information related to the geographic area and the sex of those who committed suicide, saying “the final results will be out at the end of the year.” He added that it is hard to determine the exact number of suicide attempts as some are not reported and some do not succeed. Others are classified under other categories, concluded Bani Hani.
Rana Haddad: We Do not Look into the Reason nor the Child’s Social Background
Journalist Rana Haddad, who covers children’s issues, acknowledges the fact there are no follow up stories on children’s suicides in most cases.
She said that it is important to shed light on the child’s family and his/her social background to try to identify the reasons, and to help prevent other children from doing the same.
“Some journalists try to do that. However, they are accused by some officials and experts of attempting to create a phenomenon in the society,” added Haddad.
Dr. Tayseer Ilyas: The Media should not Exaggerate
Dr. Ilyas Tayseer, psychiatrist at Al Rashid Hospital Center for Psychiatry and Addiction, suggests that “It would be better to report the news as is, without exaggeration,” adding that many teenagers do this just to attract attention, referring to several suicide attempts where individuals threatened to jump from height and spoke about suicide in the presence of traditional and social media outlets. He noted that only psychiatrists, social workers, and the security forces should be called to the scene when someone tries to end his/her live. The role of the media comes later, not during the suicide attempt, explained the expert.
Akeed has already come up with several proposals on how journalists and the media should cover suicide - professionally.