Six reasons journalists should not name innocent third parties in crime stories

Thursday July 30 2015


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On July 9, the Daily Nation published a cartoon depicting the controversy surrounding Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria over his remarks on the use of violence against the opponents of NYS.

The cartoonist’s rendering showed Mr Kuria in a jacket pocket whose lapel bore a badge with the name “Uhuru” in capital letters. And Mr Kuria was shown saying: “Mta do?”

Mr John Mutongah emailed to say he did not understand how Mr Uhuru Kenyatta was involved in Mr Moses Kuria’s outburst. “Why drag the President’s name into it? What do you think?”

I think cartoonist Gathara featured the name of the President to convey the impression that Mr Kuria enjoys the protection of the Head of State. I do not know what Gathara knows, but what I know is that dragging the name of an innocent friend or acquaintance in an act or charge of crime is, in journalistic practice, unacceptable. Here is why.

One, it violates the law. Article 22 of the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism states that the media shall not identify relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime unless the reference to them is necessary for the full, fair, and accurate reporting of the crime or legal proceedings.

Two, it breaches the NMG editorial policy, which has the same provision, word for word. It is generally accepted in journalism that innocent third parties should not be named in criminal stories as it serves no journalistic or social purpose.

Three, it is unethical. Ethical journalism requires practitioners to be fair and accurate and to minimise harm. Ethical journalism treats individuals as human beings deserving of respect.

Four, the consequences are predictable: It embarrasses an innocent third party and most likely causes harm or carries a particular stigma for the person.

Five, it does not make the crime any greater, lesser, or clearer. It only clouds the crime.

Six, it looks and sounds malicious.

Finally, as I said in “Cartoons can ridicule and lampoon, but readers, and the law, have the last word” published on April 30, editorial cartoonists are given wide latitude to express their opinions on political and social issues but they have no licence to convey inaccurate information or offend good taste. They are as much journalists as columnists and editorial writers.

Postscript: Do not go looking for the cartoon. It has disappeared from the Nation website.



“It takes a more perceptive mind to unpack Gathara’s toons... Gathara’s sketches are easily the best I have seen in a long while. Perhaps he is too intellectual for everyone’s liking, but the gentleman does it for me. Good cartoonists, in my opinion, must challenge the mind, not just seek to elicit belly laughs.”

— Mwangi Maina Martin

“How come your cartoonist themes — a certain Gathara — are always about the Jubilee government? Aren’t there any other issues worth caricaturing in the whole of Kenya?”
— Thomson Wazome

“I prefer Gathara’s cartoons to Gado’s to be honest! Anyone who thinks that Gathara’s cartoons are “Greek” is a slow thinker — and I don’t know how we can help them.”
— Martin

“There lies the problem. Even slow thinkers should be able to understand or should it only be for fast thinkers like you?”
— Nderuh Martin

“In today’s paper (July 10) he has decided to explain everything in words. Mwaura, you either change Gathara or give him the whole page to explain and express the meaning of his pictures”
— Muthaura Washington

“Am so disappointed with your editorial cartoon nowadays. Where is Gado? Or why don’t you bring in a creative cartoonist to clear up this mess.”
— Madie from Nakuru 

“Why has your paper brought in a boring cartoonist? The cartoons are incomprehensible. Recycle old cartoons and save us the agony of watching uninspiring sketches.”
— Juguna Kabacho

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