Media attention for Holleeder makes crime pay

Media attention for Holleeder makes crime pay

People generally like to get attention. So, if breaking rules pays off with attention, even negative attention, there is an incentive to show this type of behaviour. That is why the media should not reward crime with fame.

If you ask children what they would like to become, they want to be famous. And it is not only children who want to be celebrities, we can tell by counting the endless number of singers, dancers and musical stars aspiring fame in television shows. The world is divided into somebodies and nobodies, and we all want to belong to the first category. But many ways of becoming famous unfortunately require some form of talent – if only the talent of being famous, as shown by Paris Hilton.

For children and many adults alike, though, every form of attention is rewarding. So, if breaking rules pays off with attention, even negative attention, there is an incentive to show this type of behaviour. That is why parents are taught to ignore negative behaviour, and reward good behaviour. I believe this simple logic should be applied to adults as well. If you have broken the rules of society, you must be excluded and thereby ignored for a while, you do not deserve the world’s attention.

Last week, the public broadcasting service did an interview with one of the most (in)famous criminals in the Netherlands, Willem Holleeder. He has been convicted for kidnapping and extortion, and believed by many to have been involved in a series of assassinations in the Amsterdam underworld. Upon his release from prison, he got a column in a magazine, and he was interviewed by students in ´College Tour´ last week. Considering the type of guests invited by College Tour up until now – prime minister Rutte, the Dalai Lama, Madeleine Albright, Desmond Tutu, and Sting, to name a few – being intereviewed on the show is an honour.

I fail to see what Holleeder did to deserve that honour, and I fail to see why the public should want to see him interviewed. Of course, people are fascinated with crime. But did the students really expect to learn something valuable from the interview? Did they expect that he would confess the liquidations? That he would burst into tears out of regret and sorry for the pain he has caused? That his explanation for committing the crimes would be more interesting than it was, namely the desire for money? As your Leiden Law Blog reporter I felt forced to sit through the entire show, and it was as boring as we could have expected.

Holleeder does not seem to enjoy his fame very much. Yet, people can learn from him that crime is sometimes rewarded with a celebrity status. One of the best known perpetrators of our time, the Norse mass murderer, was very well aware of this fact. So before committing his terrible crime, he made a website which perfectly served the needs and desires of mass media: pictures of himself, with and without his guns, and a 1000+ pages long ´manifest´. And the media did exactly what he wanted, his reward was better than what he could have asked for. He got full coverage of his acts, and my own newspaper was still analysing his prose after months. It is reported he receives love letters from all over the world. Total neglect, nobody wanting to discuss him, exlusive media attention for the victims would have been a way for mass media to show they refuse to serve as pr-managers for murderers and to warn possible copy cats with eternal oblivion.

In a time where being famous and getting attention from the media are so important for people, we should be careful with whom we give it to. Crime must not pay, we say. We must realize that money is not the only thing people strive for. Also in the battle for fame and attention, crime must not pay!


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