|Type of paper:||Term paper|
The death of Robin Williams was one of the most widely reported stories because the public was highly interested in knowing what happened to Williams, a favorite silver screen star to many people across the world. However, the public, through social media, expressed its disgust regarding the manner in which the suicide was committed (Tohid, 2016). The public thought the media houses had gone too far in revealing the graphic details of the methods used by Williams to take away his life. Since the happenings of the case, there has been much debate and public conversation around the ethical issues around the case. While suicide lacks in moral justification and may be a matter of debate at that, the major problem in William's case was the lack of moral considerations for the public, and particularly the people close to his family. This paper is a detailed discussion of the ethical issues arising from the reporting of Robin William's suicide case.
One of the primary ethical issues in the case is that reporting the finer details of how the suicide was committed encourages social disorganization by somewhat giving people ideas on how to do it. Writing to CNN, the Chief executive of Mind, a mental health charity organization, Paul Farmer says, "When a media report describes clear details of unusual methods of suicide and essentially gives a "how to" guide-the danger is it can make suicide seem like a more accessible action to take." (Farmer, 2014). Farmer's moral argument is that people, particularly those in stressful situations may see suicide as a largely available option.
According to the Pritchard (2014) the Press Complaints Commission categorically states, "When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used." Many contemporary societies are characterized by stress and depression considering the current socioeconomic structure that puts too much pressure on individuals through work-life imbalances. Such societies should not be exposed to suicidal ideas as there will be a rise in suicide-related deaths. The report issued at the press conference organized and held by the Marin County Sheriff Lieutenant Keith Boyd has been subject to criticism (Farmer, 2014), particularly regarding the extent to which it particularly focused on the method, violating the Press Complaints Commission's provision (Pritchard, 2014).
The evidence that indeed reporting such details could encourage higher rates of suicide in the country is found in the research executed by Fink, Santaella-Tenorio, and Keyes (2018). In their research, Fink et al. (2018) aimed at finding out the impact of Robin's case of the suicide statistics in the country by studying the existing trend, making projections and observing the actual statistics. Using a time-series approach, the researchers, studied the current trends and established that there would be 16,849 suicides from August to December 2014. On the contrary, they observed 18,690 cases of suicide in that period, inferring an unforeseen excess of 1,841 cases. This translated to an increase of 9.85%. Such statistical facts are proof that it is indeed unethical to report the details of suicide cases. It was even worse in the case of reporting Robin Williams because he was, according to Fink et al. (2018), he was an influential silver screen celebrity. It is not uncommon for young people to emulate the decisions made by their idols and role models, who in most cases, are celebrities such as Williams.
Citing evidence from different studies, Fink et al. (2018) argue that Robin's case had a huge impact on the society because the ethical issues it raised compelled the World Health Organization to come up with guidelines that would inform the fashion in which the media report celebrity suicides. The world health organization regulates the reporting of celebrity deaths because in today's 24-hour-news environment such detailed stories could significantly affect people worldwide.
In defense, some journalists argued that they were under obligation to represent facts as they are, and when they unfold. Some stated that it was not their duty to protect the consumers of information from the ugliness of the truth. Similarly, the Marin County Sheriff defended his actions by saying that, as a public officer, he was under strict obligation to offer the residents of his county the truth, and that the details of Williams's death were a part of the public record that he was expected to dutifully present. Even so, some ethicists argued that the reporting was rather gross as it had potential adverse effects on the privacy of Robin's family, and those close to it (Farmer, 2014).
Writing for the Los Angeles Times, guest writer Klavan (2014) argues that journalists are under the obligation to report stories in full and to do so truthfully. Regarding the reporting of suicide, he argues that those journalists that conceal or alter the truth are those that seek to be politically correct but are practically wrong. Citing his life experience, he refers to a story where he and his editor argued whether or not to include it in the obituary that a young boy had committed suicide. The argument ensued after the mother of the deceased called begging them to omit the fact that the boy had committed suicide. The story was published indicating categorically that the boy had committed suicide. While Klavan (2014) was not sure it was the correct thing to do, he came to agree with his editor that it is important to report facts, after it came to the public that the boy's death was part of a larger story. He, therefore, concludes that journalists owe the public the duty to report, and not a duty of care regarding disturbing facts. Additionally, he states that it is not unethical to report facts regarding suicide because truthful reporting creates awareness and informs the statistical researchers that could help the relevant authorities to come up with ways of curbing the issue.
However, Klavan's (2014) article informs both sides of the ethical argument. While he tries to justify the reporting of facts as they are, the story of the dead boy's mother calling them to ask them to omit the suicide factor is sufficient proof that, indeed, the publishing of the details of suicide could negatively affect the family of the deceased, as stated by Tohid (2016). While the story may be of public importance, say if it's a part of a bigger story, it is unethical to do that which could inhibit the peaceful mourning of the family.
In conclusion, the preceding discussion reveals quite some ethical issues surrounding the fashion in which the Sheriff of Marin County and the media reported Robin Williams's death. Foremost, the reporting of the graphic details of the methods he used to kill himself was hurtful to the family as they violated the privacy of his immediate family. Secondly, the disturbing details could not allow the family and friends to mourn in peace. Additionally, the publicizing of such sensitive information is considered a way to indirectly issue a 'how-to' guide to the public because studies indicated a rise in the number of suicides after Robin's death. Also, the reporting violated the reporting provisions of the Press Complaints Commission.
Farmer, P. (2014). What media got wrong on Robin Williams' suicide? CNN. Retrieved on May 1, 2018 from https://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/14/opinion/robin-williams-suicide-media/index.html
Fink, D. S., Santaella-Tenorio, J., & Keyes, K. M. (2018). Increase in suicides the months after the death of Robin Williams in the US. PloS one, 13(2), e0191405.
Klavan, A. (2014). Report the truth -- the whole truth -- on Robin Williams' death. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on May 1, 2018 from www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-robin-williams-details-of-death-20140819-story.html
Pritchard, S. (2014).The readers' editor on ... Bridgend and suicide reporting. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/jul/27/pressandpublishing.mentalhealth
Tohid, H. (2016). Robin Williams' suicide: a case study. Trends in psychiatry and psychotherapy, 38(3), 178-182.
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