“Killing me, killing me,” shouted my small niece in her sleep last week.
She’s ten. She likes her American Girl doll, her pet bunny Lily and pretty much anything that sparkles. Her dream was about people putting hoods over her family and shooting them, then shooting her. She does not actually watch the news, but clearly her subconscious picks up on it.
In the same week I walked into my bedroom to the sounds of gunshots and screams. Courtesy of ABC morning radio, I had just heard two people being murdered. At least I did not see it like thousands who were watching the TV show where this horrific crime went to air. Nonetheless it was deeply shocking.
Networks have crossed a line in reporting violent crime which is giving criminals their 15 minutes of fame, and more.
At the same time it’s proving an effective channel for terrorists to get their message out. The recent destruction of the ancient Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra was a publicity stunt, filmed and promoted by the vandals who destroyed this precious UNESCO site. Their media monitoring no doubt showed very satisfactory results.
Coverage of the Lindt café siege is another prime example. News ratings skyrocketed that week but at what social cost? How many children had nightmares about that? Dramatic reporting was exactly what the perpetrator wanted. His demands showed he was actively seeking publicity.
I believe any violent crime or terrorist act should get very minimal airplay. Criminals should not be made into macabre celebrities. The bare facts are sufficient. No names. No images. To do more plays into their hands and exposes society to multiple horrors. Who benefits from this? Certainly not the victims and their families. Perhaps politicians seeking support for additional defence spending?
I recognise this is a very tough call for news networks chasing ratings and advertising revenue. Terrible events make compelling viewing. Of course they do. It would require a significant cultural shift and a new code of conduct to make this a reality.
Nonetheless I make a plea to networks – please be brave and limit your coverage of violent crime. To protect our children and to discourage copy cat killers, we need to step back over the line.
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