LEBANON: Suicide on Film, Have They Crossed the Line?

NICOLE SABA WRITES – Imagine watching the evening news. With no warning and no disclaimer, a video of a woman committing suicide is aired. In a span of less than three minutes, you see a woman threatening to kill herself, while her husband, who is filming it all, pants and pleads for her to reconsider.

MTV Lebanon, a news-broadcasting channel with no association to MTV (Music Television) in the United States, did just that. Amina Ismail was filmed by her husband, Kifah, as she sat on the edge of her eighth floor balcony in Ramlet al Baydah, Lebanon. After Kifah was heard pleading with her to reconsider, the camera moved away, and Amina plunged to her death, with the only audible sound being that of her husband’s screams. Kifah then posted the video on Youtube, where MTV got a hold of it. The husband claims he filmed it for his own safety, as not to be targeted as a suspect in the case. Thus, after being questioned, he was released from police custody. The couple had only been married for six months and had just moved to Lebanon from Belgium. But why would a seemingly happy newlywed would give up her life? Preliminary lab reports and investigations have concluded that Amina was suffering from a fatal disease, though she was not on any medications or sedatives.

Ghayath Yazbeck, the head of news and political programs at MTV argued that the scene was not violent, as, “we didn’t do a live standup in front of a bleeding corpse.” Furthermore, he explained that such a story should not be blown out of proportions, as MTV did not film the video, but merely, “took it off social media.” However, media experts in Lebanon don’t share the same view. Tony Mikhael, a media expert with the Maharat Foundation in Lebanon, noted that the professional media should have shed light on the story, with care and caution, rather than use it as an “audience grabber.” This is certainly true, as the media should raise awareness about issues pertaining to suicide and death, yet they must do so with the utmost sensitivity, especially since children may be watching the show.

Without including expert opinions on the issue at hand, Aidan White, the Director of the Ethical Journalism Network, claims, “the simple reproduction of violence without context is unethical, inhuman, and unworthy of journalism.” However, instead of responsibly raising awareness through professional integrity, the issue brought to light questions about responsible journalism. Stefanie Chernow, a member of the Ethical Journalism Network, brings about a good point on this world of social media, which is, “if people know they will get attention through these graphic images, it could in theory encourage this type of behavior.” However, some questions still remain unanswered: why would anyone videotape their spouse committing suicide, instead of doing everything in his power to try and stop them? And how can a news network display such irresponsibility and insensitivity by airing the video for all to see?

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