Tuesday, 20 September 2011
MORBID FASCINATION WITH DEATHS: LESSONS FOR KENYAN MEDIA FROM AMERICA
How many people have died? That's a very common query put to sources or reporters by news editors, whenever a tragic incident occurs. And the number of those killed religiously becomes the most important element in the subsequent story. Isn't this morbid fascination with deaths by Kenyan media out of line?
Most unfortunately, the past few days have been full of tragic news in this country, ranging from loss of lives in a fire tragedy, to deaths from consumption of illicit brews, multiple road accidents and even a collapsed building that was still under construction.
Whereas it is the role of the media to report such occurrences, I just find the manner in which this noble duty is being carried out to be very wanting, because of what almost amounts to an obsession with giving tragic news a hyper treatment.
And such reportage is very often made worse by the seemingly inability of the local press to get facts right, before splashing the number of those killed in this or that tragedy. It's therefore not surprising for one media outlet to quote one figure of the fatalities, while another states totally different numbers, about the same news story.
The lesson from America I'm suggesting, comes from the way the air race exhibition crash in Nevada was reported. That piece of horrifying breaking news first only indicated there were 'mass casualties,' and a couple of deaths.
Lessons for Kenyan media from America
Compare that with how news of the Sinai fire tragedy in Nairobi was initially clogged with all manner of confused estimations of the number of those who had perished.
Apart from spreading panic and possibly exacerbating the trauma of those affected or their relatives, let alone the gory images that were carelessly being screened on TV and later published in the papers, such news coverage depicts a media with very dubious ethical standards and warped sense of patriotism.
It's almost as if the local media prefers to nonchalantly give as much gory details as possible in a sickening misconception that this will deliver higher ratings/ readership or circulation figures.
What about the damaging perception about our country that such mishandled tragic news can potentially create in the global arena? How can this boost investor confidence? How about credit ratings for the country?
And it really makes no sense to always be quick to condemn the western media about their overtly negative coverage of news from Africa and then continue in the same vein, when telling our own stories.