January 25, 2009

The Media Impact on Suicide: A Critical Research Proposal Analysis


By and large, media become one of the many instruments in which influences our way of life. We look at media in different perspectives and in different ways. We become witnesses of the transformation and evolution of media. From standing as a paragon of peace, freedom and equality, to deterioration and reification of reality, media seem to stand on its own, independent to the branching institutions. However, media become na├»ve in some ways because it somehow caught unguarded with the lure of globalization. Here, we come to analyze how the trend of globalization comes to influence the media sphere.      

The issue on suicide is not new. Many centuries ago, suicide became the hotspot issue of academics, medical experts, psychologists, and sociologists. In fact, there were multifarious literatures that offered multi-faceted ideas concerning the suicidal phenomena. Popular for the study was that of Emil Durkheim on the sociological perspective of suicide. Inherent to this act is the ethical questionings of whether it is permissible or not, justifiable or sine qua non. Yet, up to this date, suicide still gained considerable attention for scholars to further understand it.

            For media practitioners especially news reporters and journalists, suicide posed both as a dramatic story of human tragedy and as a complex ethical dilemma.


Background of the Study

            Journalists have an instinct to bring information into the public domain, and that the inclusion of detailed information about an event, such as suicide, is seen to add authenticity to a feature. Some members of the audience expressed unease at the idea that a journalist should be asked to restrain their reporting and questioned where such practices might lead. Any news stories are capable of exerting powerful influence on the construction of social norms and values.

            Suicide is a valid subject for both reporting and dramatic representation. The media has an important role to play in educating the public about suicide and the wider issues involved that may lead people to feel suicide. Certain types of portrayals and media reporting are potentially harmful and can act as a catalyst to influence the behavior of those people who are already vulnerable. On the other hand, as long as these issues are presented sensitively, the media can help to save lives. Responsible reporting helps to educate the public and de-stigmatize the issue. Moreover, it should be highlighted that while reporters attempt to achieve balance and avoid exploitation, glorification or sensationalism of suicides, censorship and misinformation are equally unhelpful. In order to come with balance, appropriate and proper presentation of information, it is necessary to present the facts and confront the stigma.

Related Literature

            For journalists and editors, suicide presents a dilemma. It can be an issue of public interest, and it is clearly the responsibility of the reporter to convey the news. Indeed there can be a positive aspect to reporting suicide, as debate may help to de-stigmatize the subject and provoke a wider discussion about the importance of good emotional health. In film and television drama, a similar quandary exists. A suicide or attempted suicide of a popular character, particularly where reel scenarios are presented, can have real life consequences for viewers.

            The study made by Who (2000) provides as the literature in which certain media forms contributed to the increasing number of suicide cases. Such the publication of Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, Final Exit of Derek Humphry which stimulated an increase of suicides in New York, Suicide, mode d'emploi in France. On the research made by the Health organization of New Zealand in 1999, it pointed out the role of media in influencing rate status of suicidal cases pinpointing to several media outlets such as real TV, theatre, radio, print, internet, documentaries, and film. On the other hand, the Center for Suicide Research and Prevention of University of Hong Kong provides the statistical data of suicidal cases which 1, 238 people committed suicide in 2003 and placed 6th on the killer list of Hong Kong and media largely contribute to such increasing number of suicide cases.

In the collaborative research study made by Reuters Foundation and CSR of the Oxford University in 2003 reveals that almost thirty studies were made to examine the possible impact of reporting of suicide in newspapers while limited evidence supported the reporting of method of suicide increases the use of such method by others. Meanwhile there the research presented that out of seven studies on fictional suicides examined using films and soap operas, four of them provided facts on increasing number of attempted suicide. Yet, WHO (2000) contends that "reporting of suicide in an appropriate, accurate and potentially helpful manner by enlightened media can prevent tragic loss of lives by suicide." Kathryn Williams (2002) believes that "reporting and portrayal of suicide behavior in the media may have potentially negative influences to such stimuli." Further the impact of the media on suicidal behavior seems to be most likely when a method of suicide is specified during the report of such event.


            This study aims of the following objectives:

  1. To examine the socio-cultural and emotional cause of suicide.
  2. To determine the direct correlation between suicide and media.
  3. To identify the role of media in the increasing number of suicide cases.
  4. To make an outline on how media can help prevent the ballooning case on suicide.

Statement of the Problem

            This study seeks to answer the following problems:

  1. How does suicide links to media?
  2. What is the role of media to the society?
  3. What is the impact of media to the status of suicide?
  4. How media does contribute to the increase number of suicide victims?
  5. What are possible measures media should exercise to help prevent the increase of cases?

Scope and Limitation

            The scope of the study will only go around analyzing fictional and non-fictional dramatization of suicide and the graphic and visual presentation used by media practitioners. The object of analysis only limited to print, film, television, and internet. The text, graphic and visual presentation, and dramatization of an event will be subject for analysis both in print and television and further uses soap operas as fictional story. For the film, selected significant movies with themes related to suicide will be an object for analysis while websites, chatting rooms, and social networks in the internet will be analyzed.


            The use of Social Learning Theory and media Agenda-Setting Function are the primary theories to be used in this study. Important in this analysis is also the use of both qualitative and quantitative methods in order sufficiently provide bases and support for the arguments and claims of the study.

            Statistical analysis will come after gathering survey information coming from a range of selected cases found from recent news stories, films, and soaps with elements directly related to suicide. The interview will be made to selected number of informants specialize on suicide and media while other interviews will come from selected respondents which had a history of suicide which did not prosper. Moreover, observation will be made on selected internet websites, social networks and chat rooms.





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