On Monday this week, a police officer (name withheld) attached to Kajjansi Police Station, was arrested for alleged involvement in a foiled robbery in Entebbe. Together with a civilian (name withheld), they are alleged to have robbed a fish dealer on two previous occasions and were now attempting a third robbery.
As expected, the media was awash with the story on mainstream media’s online platforms as well as on social media in general. Because the photograph of the said police officer was not readily available, several online publishers pulled out his wedding photo (likely off his social media page) and published it to illustrate the story.
In that photo was his beaming wife in her wedding gown and the smiling police officer in his ceremonial police uniform.
This photo is what prompted journalist Simie Annah Nyanjura to ask on an exclusive journalists’ Facebook group the following question: “Help me understand something; is it a journalistic thing that when a police officer commits a crime, the editor uses his wedding photo and not even blurring the wife’s face...?”
I decided to take this conversation outside the group because I believe many members of the public could be asking themselves the same question. The wife of the police officer and those close to her must be puzzled as to why she had to be publicised alongside her husband when she had nothing to do with the alleged robbery except if we look at it from the perspective of her vows; “for better and for worse”.
The wife in this case is what is technically referred to in law and in journalism as “innocent third party” and it is very common in the media. Thus many times you will find a headline reading “Minister’s son rapes girl” or “Sheik’s daughter named in sex scandal.”
In this case, both the minister and the sheik are innocent third parties and are being made to share the spotlight with their offspring. In terms of photographs, one will often find a photo of a group of friends with a caption reading “Mr X (centre) in a past photograph at function ABC. He has been accused of stealing company money”. Thus those with whom he was photographed at an occasion that had nothing to do with theft are innocent third parties being associated with their friend, who is accused of committing a crime.
It is important to help the public understand in what circumstances the media is allowed to drag into the story innocent third parties and when thy absolutely must not. And if one has been dragged in, does he/she have any recourse to complain or simply he/she just has to accept that once one is born with a thief, they live with it (even in public) as a factor of birth!
Both the code of ethics developed by the moribund Independent Media Council of Uganda and the Nation Media Group Editorial Policy Guidelines have a provision for this and read more or less the same.
The NMG policy reads: “Innocent relatives and friends – The media should generally avoid identifying relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime, or otherwise unfavourably featured in news stories, unless the reference to them is necessary for the full, fair and accurate reporting of the crime, legal or other proceedings.”
It is clear, therefore, that journalists must exercise extreme discretion before dragging innocent relatives and friends into an unfolding story because doing so transfers the stigma associated with the crime to people who never participated in it. Those portrayed so can, therefore, make a legitimate complaint.
Interestingly, the same level of discretion is not prescribed for associating “innocent relatives and friends” with positive stories of achievement perhaps because the nature of society is that success has many friends while failure is an orphan.
A reader, James S. K shared feedback on the article “Mutungo Hill: The myths, mysteries”. He wrote: “The picture in the article is of Kireka Hill. I have lived in Luzira for more than 20 years and I walk around Mutungo Hill for exercise and drive around it to dodge Kitintale and Bugolobi traffic. I am shocked how inaccurate the article is geographically and it makes me question the mythical stuff the article goes on to tell”.
Public Editor: Clearly the illustrative photograph accompanying the article misrepresented the area. A correction shall be published to set the record straight.
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