Sick people…

May 5, 2008 at 8:14 pm (crime, media)

I’ve stated in my posting on the “about”-page that I’m glad to have left journalism as such behind because it can be a very sickening trade. You need to talk to people who have been abused, beaten, have lost a relative, a child, a husband, have experienced catastrophes and accidents. It takes a lot to stomach such things, yet writing about the sick things happening in this world pays some people’s rents. Still, I cannot help but wonder how some people can still sleep at night; I’m not referring to journalists alone who are trying to sell a story and benefit from it. No. It’s people like you and me that show their dark side when it comes to profit.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the incest case of Amstetten – a man imprisoned his own daughter for 24 years, abused her and fathered seven children, three of them being held captive as well while three were allowed to live with their grandpartens (the wife obviously not knowing what was going on and buying the husband’s story that the children were left on their porch by the supposedly disappeared daughter). It’s bad enough that all the media provide us with daily reports on this ugly matter; some stick to their values and report only what they know for a fact, others – the yellow press – go very far in order to acquire more readers. But nothing is as disgusting as this, reported in an article on http://derstandard.at: Neighbours of the family are selling information and pictures of the now 42 year old woman to journalists. The article reports that an italian journalists actually paid 4,000 euros for a picture of that woman showing her as a child. Other neighbours seem to offer their balconys, windows, porches – for a “good” view on the “house of horrors” and, of course, not for free. I cannot help but wonder what makes these people tick. They insult the victims. And they have to answer the question what on earth happened to their compassion, their humanity. I know all of us need money, and probably everybody has their price and can be bought. But this is just wrong. Think about it: Would you want your picture in all the newspapers, on every single tv-screen not just in Austria but all over the world? Would you want every single gruesome detail sold to greedy media, would you want yourselves to be exposed like this? If your answer to this is yes, you might feel comfortable with people selling information and pictures related to a horrible crime. You might also want to check your values, your compassion and humanity.

But the matter is, I think, a little more complex than this. It’s not just some greedy people trying to make some profit out of a tragedy. It’s also the media’s role that needs to be looked at here. If the media weren’t so keen on giving us every tiny detail on a crime, would someone actually sell it to them? And if we, the readers and viewers, wouldn’t be so keen on devouring every detail, shivering and going “Oh dear god, how could this have happened?”, thinking that such things only happen to “the others” – if we, as consumers of media, wouldn’t demand more information and more details, would there actually be a market for it? Would journalists try to outbid themselves on information or would they be content with what the police and lawyers give them? I know that I was never comfortable with digging around in other people’s lives, with trying to dig out every gruesome detail people were willing to share. I think that maybe it’s about time for all of us to reconsider our values and to be content with what the police is passing on to journalists.

This brings me to another point: What happens if someone doesn’t behave like a victim and chooses to withhold information even though the public thinks we have a right to know everything? I can tell you: The public doesn’t approve and feels betrayed. And if that victim actually is given their own talkshow and is suspected of making money, envy raises its ugly head. In case you’re wondering what I’m referring to: It’s the case of Natascha Kampusch, also held prison in a cellar for over eight years until she managed to escape about two years ago. Kampusch, obviously an intelligent and very brave young woman, chose not to share every tiny bit of information on her years in the cellar. And the public takes this personally. No one would admit, of course, that they are eager for gruesome details. Instead, people hide their anger about being “left out” behind statements like “Oh no, she’s on tv again. Why doesn’t she leave us alone?” In fact, she does. And it’s her right to complain about journalists making up rumours about her years in the cellar or publishing pictures that show her with a guy who, according to the yellow press, can, of course, be no other than her boyfriend. It’s the public which doesn’t leave her alone because she doesn’t behave like your average victim, because she has courage and intelligence. People obviously don’t like that about victims which proves once again that the human mind can be a strange thing, working along lines that can hardly be understood. I, for my part, don’t understand it. Not at all.

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