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Ethics: Spare families, audiences gory details of brutal murders

analysis, monitoring

By Mercy Kwamboka

The media both local and national must be applauded for shining the spotlight on emicide and gender-based violence in general.

This fits well with the media’s information and agenda-setting role in our society. Media reports give victims confidence to overcome the fear and humiliation and the urge to report their ordeals in the hands of partners.

Another unidentified victim of the late Starlet Waeni’s murder suspect emerged and shared her experience. The highlights are impactful and have triggered the government to pursue a number of femicide cases since the year started, beef up security in short-term rental apartments and have AirBnBs properly regulated.

On the flipside, there are some audiences who may have cringed at the gruesome details of the murders of Rita Waeni and Starlet Wahu as reported by the media. Do such details of killings, repeated over and over again, do more harm than good to media audiences?

The objective of telling Rita’s and Starlet’s stories ought to be raising the alarm on rising cases of femicide and calling for the security of youths engaging in online dating.

But when the stories are told over and over again in more or less the same way, they can easily morph into something else, like ‘This is how easily and quickly you finish your toxic partner.’

Retelling the femicide story from the same angle over and over not only erodes empathy for the bereaved families but also raises ethical issues in journalism. The media must not seem to be using femicide stories to make more sales or milking the story for profit. Unnecessary details of the killings are insensitive to bereaved families and intrusion into grief.

For instance, some explicit descriptions picked from headlines were an intrusion into shock and grief, giving gory descriptions like the Taifa Leo headline, “Mbona walienda na kichwa chake?” The story said: Kulingana na polisi, imebainika kuwa wauji wa msichana huyo walitumia msumeno kukata mwili wake vipande vipande huku familia yake ikihusisha kisa hicho cha kikatili na utekaji nyara kwa lengo la kudai fidia.”

The Standard reported that, “A sharp object was used to slice the body into pieces…” The People Daily’s article said “the body had been chopped into pieces and stuffed into a polythene bag…”. The Star ran a headline: Waeni strangled, cut into pieces – autopsy’’. The descriptions lack empathy and take the reader into a butchery scenario.

The Standard, January 18

People Daily, January 18

For Wahus’ case, K24 reported ;

The big question is , how much information about brutal murder should the media share with the public while mantaining ethics and showing empathy to bereaved families?

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