Why I stand with the New York Times in publishing photos of Dusit terror victims [Opinion]

Until the lion learns to write, every story will always glorify the hunter

Why I stand with the New York Times in publishing photos of Dusit terror victims [Tony Mukere]

In the aftermath of the Dusit terror attack, Kenyans on social media have continued to express their anger at the New York Times for publishing photos of some of the victims who were brutally murdered by the Al Shabaab militia.

Initially, anger was directed at incoming NYT East African bureau chief Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, who responded by explaining, albeit in a controversial tone, that she has no say on the decision regarding which photos run alongside her story.

NYT later issued a clarification defending its' publication of the photos, but the anger did not die down.

The Media Council of Kenya (MCK), through its CEO David Omwoyo, wrote to the American newspaper, threatening all manner of punitive actions if the photos were not taken down within 24 hours.

In response, Associate Managing Editor for standards at NYT, Philip B. Corbett, courteously responded - reiterating the earlier position on why the media house had decided to run the photos (politely telling Omwoyo to go have carnal relations with self).

Despite the development, Kenyans have continuously attacked the Times, even calling upon the State to intervene and deport Kimiko for “being rude to Kenyans”.

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us the danger of a single narrative as has been the case in the epithets thrown at the NYT and its employee. I wish to demystify these two narratives:

a). It is unethical to post photos of dead people

The dominant argument, advanced by both pedestrians and professionals such as the MCK CEO, is that it is unethical to run photos of dead people.

Unfortunately, this is not true, journalistic ethics are always guided by context and should never be interpreted in a mechanical, black and white manner.

There is a reason a photo is said to tell a thousand words and gory images have in many instances shown the world the true impact of war, poverty, violence and other negative vices in our society.

Examples abound of powerful photos of the dead that pushed popular causes. The Arab spring, for instance, started after a street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze in Tunisia.

Photos and videos of the ugly incident revealed the deep anger that many citizens in the Arab world had against the dictatorial regimes that had governed them for decades.

In 2012, photographer Massoud Hossaini won the Pulitzer prize, the gold standard award in journalism, after AFP run a photo capturing the impact of the Iraq conflict in the aftermath of a suicide attack in Kabul in December 2011.

Locally, the country’s leading media house, the Nation, has severally run violent images to show the reality of untold conflicts.

In 2009, the Nation published bloody photos of some of the 22 people who were brutally hacked to death after dozens of Mungiki followers attacked Gathaithi village in Karatina.

The incident sparked public outcry and was one of the reasons that the Ministry of Interior Security responded decisively to the Mungiki menace.

The Nation also run an AFP photo of a charred body of a civilian killed by a suicide car bomb in Mogadishu. The story reported of the linkage between corruption and insecurity in Somalia.

If MCK, as a peer-regulatory organization had honest issues with the publication of dead bodies, shouldn’t they have alerted the Nation and ought to improve local standards before seeking to regulate an international entity?

Qatar-owned Aljazeera, which actively supports the Palestinian cause, often runs graphic images of Palestinians killed by the Israeli security forces. Such photos do not seek to show the weakness of the Palestinians or the strength of Israel but rather - they expose the brutality of the Israeli that has been allowed by the Western countries to bully its neighbor without any accountability.

In the same vein, photos of Al Shabaab victims do not show the might of the terrorists but how low they can stoop. At a time when US President Donald Trump's foreign policy is guided by "America-only", it helps to show the American people (NYT's primary audience) that terrorism is a global phenomenon that should be supported by all.

b). New York Times does not run photos of dead white people

The second-most common source of anger against the Times is the assumption, or rather, the stereotype that the international media never runs photos of white dead bodies.

This is not true as has been proved with examples ranging from New York City, Syria, Yemen, in Africa, and in Europe.

But even if, and only if for the sake of this argument, a foreign media was contemptuous of Africans, why would we foam in the mouth telling them to love us and to treat us as equals?

Shouldn’t we be more concerned with improving the situations and standards in our continent so that we will not need other people to tell our stories? Our people say that until the lion learns to write, every story will always glorify the hunter.

Russia’s RT and Aljazeera have in the past published controversial photos of American soldiers being killed in the war zone, we don’t see Americans throwing tantrums. If Nation was to run offensive articles about the Ku Klux Klan, and am sure it has, would we see similar anger? Your bet is as good as mine.

Let us put our energy of putting our house in order, on Friday, every local media outlet had a different story on the fate of Ali Salim Gichunge – the alleged mastermind of the Dusit terror attack.

The Standard and Nation said he was killed, the People Daily said he had coordinated the attack from outside and was on the run, while Citizen TV said he was in custody. His girlfriend’s whereabouts remain unknown as each media house has its own version - ranging from an arrest to fleeing to Somalia.

The MCK and its groupies should stop chasing rats in the neighbor’s house when their own abode is on fire!

Tony Mukere is a journalist and social commentator.

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