Third Eye

Balancing act dilemma in reporting soaring crime

Friday, June 25th, 2021 00:00 |
Crime scene. Photo/Courtesy

Nairobi’s increasingly notorious thugs struck again this week. Their latest target was a journalist enroute to work who they accosted in the traffic, scaring life out of her.

By the end of the ordeal her purse was gone, and the poor lady was thoroughly shaken.

But she was not alone. This has been the experience of countless others. Most have lost valuables and left scarred with fear.

But these are the lucky victims,  many others have come out worse. Across the country the story has not been any different with children targeted, some lost without trace while others have been brutally murdered.

This cannot be the new normal for Kenyans.  A nation priding itself in its freedoms, whose twitter population is ever cantankerous quoting this and that section of the law for justification, should not, at the same time be walking on eggshells on their way home; too scared to leave their children to play around in the neighborhood.

It is unfortunate that the state of security is yet to cause an alarm at the national level.

May be this is because it has not touched the political class in their gated neighborhoods, their round the clock tax funded security and their tinted car windows.

As is to be expected, the media has been doing its part in highlighting these crimes.

From the story of the poor girl in Kajiado who disappeared while visiting with friends only for her lifeless body to be found dumped in the neighborhood; the old man in Kitale making his way to visit his ailing sister only to disappear for days; or the poor Nairobi woman moved around in a water tank in the eastlands of the city – the media has told it all.

But it is always a double-edged sword with the media whether to tell or not to tell. Does the telling of the story serve the good of society, or the good of the thugs? 

There are dangers in telling the story: it spreads fear in society, with the repeated graphic reporting making the crimes appear more prevalent than they really are, while at the same time the reporting could contribute to inspiring criminal elements to stage similar crimes.

It has been observed by researchers interested in how terror is reported that terrorists sometimes stage terror acts, simply as a mechanism to publicise their cause and to draw attention to themselves.

Given that media have a liking for bloody, prominent events, then the terrorists would give media what it craves for, in return for their desired publicity.

Not reporting the events does not help either. Certainly, society needs to be informed.

With such information then people would hopefully be more careful in venturing out and will be more informed with regard on how to respond and how to behave.

It is not just the terrorists who use the media, security agents need publicity as well.

Sometimes this helps them get leads that may be useful in solving the crimes. The challenge of the media is always in balancing how the story is reported.

The high adrenaline that journalists are made of leans towards providing as much information as they can.

But that could be counterproductive to the overall security of society, since criminals could use that information to their end. 

So the challenge is on maintaining the balance – saying as much as is necessary but not too much such that the criminals start getting ideas on what to do.

Yet as it stands now, the crime situation cries for attention. From the media, it requires placing the story in context and drawing comparisons based on available data. 

Are the reported incidents significantly higher than before, both from a quantitative and graphic point of view?

Whether the answer is in the positive or not, the spate of crimes now being reported must be addressed. —The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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