Copycat suicides serious

Warning issued against graphic coverage of celebs' suicides

By Bae Ji-sook

Data from Statistics Korea show that cases of top entertainers killing themselves result in a steep rise of copycat suicides in the months that follow.

Some 1,000 people killed themselves in October and November of 2008, apparently copying the suicide of the late top actress Choi Jin-sil, according to a report submitted to Rep. Lee Ae-ju of the ruling Grand National Party.

The mainstream media should be prudent when covering celebrities' suicides to help reduce the syndrome, the lawmaker said.

The number of people who committed suicide within two months after the deaths of other entertainers was also sharply higher than those in other months. The number was 2,568 for the late actress Lee Eun-joo (Feb. 2005), 2,330 for Yuni (Jan. 2007), 2,304 for Jeong Da-bin (Feb. 2007), and 2,876 for Ahn Jae-hwan (Sept. 2008).

Suicides accounted for 6.2 percent of the total number of deaths in 2009, up from 2.6 percent in 2000, indicating that suicide is becoming a serious problem for society, the lawmaker said.

"There have been talks about the so-called Werther Effect, an abnormal syndrome urging people to kill themselves in ways similar to celebrities or other people. This data shows that the Werther Effect is true", Lee said.

Lee blamed the mass media's excessive coverage of suicides as glamorizing the tragedy.

"News articles are an artificial stimulation. It is one of the most powerful means of delivering ideas and it overshadows several anti-suicide campaigns", she said.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare has advised media companies to refrain from printing or reporting celebrities' suicides as headline news. It has also asked them to refrain from describing the specific means or situation of the death and interviewing family members of the deceased, which could be considered as an infringement upon human rights.

However, according to monitoring by the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention of the 343 articles in 10 major newspapers and the 113 reports by four major broadcasters, 60.1 percent failed to follow the guidelines.

The civic group said most of the articles over-simplified the possible cause of death and overly described the means of the suicide.

"There have been more celebrities' suicides even after the latest study (actors Choi Jin-young and Park Yong-ha). We are very concerned that the media's attitude toward suicide hasn't got any better and possibly may have even encouraged more people to make irreversible choices", Lee said.

Health and welfare minister Chin Soo-hee on Monday said she will "think of every means available to warn people against suicide and to block the Werther effect".

모방 자살 수 심각

연예인들의 자살 수가 늘어나면서 이 후 모방 자살의 수가 급격히 늘어났음을 통계자료가 보여주고 있다. 이에 따르면 탤런트 고 최진실을 뒤따른 모방자살로 추정되는 수가 2008년 10월과 11월에 약 1000여명에 달한다. 이 때문에 방송은 유명인의 자살을 다루는데 신중할 필요가 있다는 반응이다.

특정 연예인이 자살한 뒤 2개월 안에 일어난 자살자 수가 그 뒤의 달에 일어난 자살 수에 비해 훨씬 더 높다. 안재환이 사망한 2008년 9월쯤에는 자살자 수가 2,876건이였고 최진실이 사망한 2008년 10월 경에는 자살자 수가 3,081 이였다.

이 시점을 연예인 자살이 없었던 다른 년도에 비교하면 최진실의 경우는 약 1,008명이 늘어난 것이고 안정환의 경우는 약 690명이 늘어난 것이다. 사망자의 수는 2개월이 지나서야 다시 감소하는 추세다.

이 때문에 보건복지부는 방송매체에 유명인의 자살뉴스를 톱기사로 보도하는 것 과 인권 위반으로 간주될 수 있는 특정한 자살 방법이나 상황을 묘사하는 것과 가족을 인터뷰를 하는 것을 자제해 달라고 부탁했다.

그러나 모니터링 결과 10개 주요 신문사의 343개의 기사들과 4개 주요 방송국이 보도한 113건의 뉴스가 이를 따르지 않은 것으로 밝혀져 그 비율이 60.1%를 차지하고 있음을 보여줬다.

시민 단체는 자살의 이유에 대한 설명은 무시하면서 자살 방법은 지나치게 보도하는 경향이 있다고 지적했다.
The late actress Choi Jin-sil