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Starlet Wahu murder: Calling for ethical, empathetic reporting of tragedies

analysis, monitoring

On January 5, 2024, Kenyan media unfolded the distressing story of the murder of a woman identified as Starlet Wahu. K24 distinguished itself by conducting an extensive investigation into the incident. Their journalists arrived at the crime scene promptly, obtaining exclusive CCTV footage of the apartment’s exterior and capturing video footage of the interior, as well as interviewing detectives at the scene. While commendable in their dedication to uncovering the truth, the subsequent widely viewed video report made by K24 about this tragic incident reveals certain shortcomings that merit scrutiny.

First, the reporter highlights the victim’s attire, mentioning she wore a “short, red dress.” While this is factual, emphasising the dress’s length, especially considering the tragic circumstances, raises concerns about its relevance. Curiously, there was no mention of the suspect’s dressing. Starting the report with details about the victim’s dressing might be perceived as victim shaming and blaming, almost suggesting that she bore responsibility for the crime committed against her.

Second, the report discloses the discovery of a used HIV-testing kit at the scene, revealing the negative result. While this could dispel potential speculations as to the victim’s HIV status, reporting the specific result could be seen as a breach of privacy. Additionally, it may violate the HIV Prevention and Control Act, which prohibits the disclosure of such information without consent, even after a person’s death.

Third, the report mentions explicit details such as the discovery of used condoms, bhang, and alcohol, with a police officer specifying the number and state of condoms found. While this may be potentially relevant to the investigation, disseminating such graphic information to the public may be unnecessary and insensitive to the victim’s plight. The media station could have omitted or better rephrased the officer’s words. And, really, does the public need to know all that?

Fourth, the early revelation of the victim’s name and age raises questions about whether her family had been properly informed of her death before the information was broadcast. Delaying the disclosure in such cases allows for a more controlled and private notification to the family. This helps in preserving the victim’s dignity and minimising trauma to loved ones so they don’t have to find out such tragic information about their loved one from the news or social media.

Finally, the report concludes with the assertion that the incident was, “indeed a sad love story that took a sharp twist ending in a horrible crime of passion.” This conclusive statement contrasts with earlier suggestions by the policewoman that the suspect could be a serial killer. It might be more prudent to present the conclusion as a possibility rather than stating it as a fact.

Overall, this video report seemed to engage in victim shaming and blaming. It also sensationalised the reporting by showing the graphic scenes, despite the footage being in grayscale, of the apartment covered in the victim’s blood, as well as broadcasting graphic and unnecessary details such as the number of used condoms. It also invaded the victim’s privacy and potentially violated the law by revealing the HIV test result. The reporting could have been more neutral as opposed to being opinionated, and the tone could have been more empathetic towards the victim.

In conclusion, while K24’s commitment to investigative reporting is commendable, careful consideration of the language used and the sensitivity of the information disclosed is essential to ensure responsible journalism that upholds ethical standards. The media’s role in disseminating information about such tragic events carries a responsibility to balance transparency with empathy and respect for the privacy and dignity of those affected.

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