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Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Reporters are asked for a little common courtesy


Staff writer

OSAKA — Anger on the part of the local community toward the way the media reported on the slaying of eight children at Osaka Kyoiku University Ikeda Elementary School and on the aftermath prompted mental care experts Sunday to demand an end to what they call psychologically damaging coverage.

"Some in the media thrust microphones at children who witnessed the murders. Other reporters went to the homes of the victims' families and demanded comments," said Naoyasu Motomura, head of the medical support team assigned to counsel the victims and families.

The team specifically wants the media to refrain from direct interviews with children at the school; from filming or photographing the victims' next of kin, other individuals involved, or their workplaces; from interviewing families, including by telephone or at their homes; and from filming the victims' homes and the school itself.

Motomura also requested that once the school reopens, children be allowed to re-enter the grounds without being swarmed by the press.

"We want the children to return to school in a calm atmosphere and in a way in which they will feel safe," Motomura said, stressing repeatedly that the medical support team, which includes 16 experts in mental health care and post traumatic stress, issued the request in the best interests of the victims. "Now is the most important period for the psychological healing of the children, the parents and the teachers."

On Saturday, the school principal, Yoshio Yamane, pleaded for media restraint, saying that while he realizes the need to gather information, the interviews of the children were particularly upsetting.

"Please stop interviewing the children and please stop constantly taking pictures of the families and school. It's doing even more damage," Yamane said.

While many in the community agree with the medical support team's request, it drew a mixed reaction from reporters. Several agreed that TV interviews of the children who survived the carnage were excessive, but others felt that what the team was asking for was not restraint but censorship.

"Some members of the team are health-care experts. But others are local government bureaucrats and police worried about their image and possible lawsuits. They know many parents are angry at them about the lack of security, and they don't want to see themselves being taken to task in public. That's what it comes down to," said one reporter from a major Japanese daily.

"I've seen parents whose kids were not injured talking to reporters eagerly. The request is based on the team's self-interest and a desire to protect their own rear ends," said another reporter from a major Japanese television station who also spoke anonymously.



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