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Forget investigations, media already condemned, hung Matara

You have heard of the recent murder of Nairobi socialite, Starlet Wahu, and the subsequent arrest of one John Matara, who police say was the last person seen with her?

Well, try doing a Google search for “Matara”. Before you even finish typing his name, Google spits out the suggestion, “Matara the killer”.

What? Yup. But why? Because the poor suspect has already been judged, sentenced and hung in the court of public opinion, thanks to the media.

Just sample the headlines.

  • Daily Nation, January 14: “Secret life of murder suspect John Matara that puzzled his family and friends.”
  • Kenyans.co.ke, January 12: “Murder Suspect John Matara Discloses Why He Divorced His Wife.”
  • Citizen Digital, January 9: “Inside The Dating App John Matara Allegedly Used To Lure His Female Victims.”
  • NTV, January 10: “How suspected killer Matara allegedly used women to lure male victims.”
  • The Star, January 11: “Wahu murder: Matara’s house raided as more victims speak out.”
  • Nairobi Wire, January 9: “Revealed: The Message John Matara Sent to Listing Owner After Attacking Victim on December 29.”
  • Tuko, January 10: “John Matara: Former Classmate Says Murder Suspect Was Expelled From High School.”
  • NTV, January 9: “Revealed: Police knew about Starlet Wahu’s alleged killer John Matara’s atrocities over a year ago.”
  • NTV, January 9: “Revealed: Inside the ‘dark double life’ of John Matara, Starlet Wahu’s ‘killer’.”
  • Tuko, Jan 12: “Police Praise John Matara for Being Calm and Intelligent While In Custody: “‘Ni Mwerevu Sana’”.

How could the suspect of an ongoing investigation survive any of those headlines?

None of the headlines is impartial. They don’t need to spell it out. All the headlines tell you the man is guilty. How could he not be? Even the single positive leaning one by Tuko couldn’t help itself. It ended with all pun intended: “ni mwerevu sana”. With that snide, the heading insinuated the police had their guy. Matara was guilty as hell.

This story is sucking out air in social media. It has all the elements of a story that must be told – murder in the city, a socialite, human interest, a mysterious suspect, a gruesome murder scene, everything.

Precisely because of all of that, it is a huge test on how to report impartially and, while at it, do no harm. And the media is failing this test. Spectacularly.

Do no harm? Nah. In public opinion, the media is undercutting this homicide investigation. It is already trial by the Press. It is mob justice. And the sum total of it is wrong.

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