The New York Times tagline is ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print’ but incoming East Africa Bureau Chief Kimiko de Freytas Tamura must be calling for a different approach while reporting on Kenya after learning the hard way that Kenyans can be a very unforgiving lot when it comes to emotional issues.
On Tuesday, Kenyans were up in arms against Ms Tamura over the publisher’s decision to embed gory photos of the Riverside Attack victims in her story.
The rage that ensued was ungovernable; she was all alone in an online war against a multitude of Kenyans on Twitter and Facebook in a fight she later said she did not instigate.
Kenyans demanded the offensive photos be pulled down and an explanation on why they were used. Ms Tamura on the other hand maintained that she was only the writer and played no part in the selection of the photos. She advised Kenyans to direct their anger to the NYT photo department in a Tweet that was later pulled down.
The rest, you would say, is history.
Ms Tamura is not new in Kenya and Africa at large, though. She reported on the nullification of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election in September 2017 and also wrote a feature on the Ethiopian government’s network of spies on November 5 2017.
But she is more popular for an article she wrote on January 14 this year on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) politics detailing how, despite the election of Felix Tshisekedi, immediate former President Joseph Kabila is still calling the shots.
— Rachel Strohm (@RachelStrohm) January 15, 2019
It is fair to say that she is built for NYT East Africa Bureau Chief job; she is familiar with the region’s politics and has crisscrossed Africa in pursuit of stories with a global appeal.
But none of that will matter to Kenyans who have already called for her deportation. And that is because they strongly believe that the gory photos were not fit to print.
Ethics on trial
An in-house assessment by Business Today of Tamura’s NYT articles portray her as an independent journalist. She has written a lot of articles ranging from politics, business and crime.
BBC broadcast reporter Flora Drury in an analysis of the Riverside Attack article published on Wednesday questioned whether it was ethical for NYT to publish the photos.
According to the British broadcaster, the attack at the 14 Riverside complex wasn’t over when the picture of the dead men slumped over the tables in the Nairobi restaurant where they had been having lunch was published.
“The decision of a number of US and European outlets – including the UK’s MailOnline and Germany’s Bild – to use the photograph was instantly condemned on Kenyan social media. The New York Times came in for the most criticism,” Drury wrote.
“The newspaper, angry users said, was using the “misery and tragedy” of Tuesday’s terror attack on the Dusit hotel for clickbait,” said the BBC article.
BBC added that the speed with which the picture was published meant many were still unaware their loved ones had been caught up in the attack.
BBC ended the article saying it had sought New York Times for comment.
Similarly, The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a non profit school of journalism based in Florida also waded into the debate questioning whether the Times was justified in publishing the photos.
“While the controversy involving the photo pales in comparison to the awful tragedy, the Times’ decision to run the photo brings up the ethical question that editors everywhere grapple with any time there is a horrific event,” Poynter said.
The Media Studies school went on to defend the decision by the Times to publish the photo, saying the American newspaper has an obligation to give its readers a clear picture of the horror.
“This photo absolutely showed the devastation caused by this attack and, even though it didn’t show the faces of the deceased, the images of two people whose lives ended while sitting in a restaurant humanized the tragedy in a way no words could. That right there is the strongest case to run the photo.”
Poynter concluded, “Is this a tough image? Yes, no question. But should the Times have run it? Yes, no question.”
Meanwhile, the Media Council of Kenya has written condemning the publishing of those photos and threatening to revoke the accreditation of NYT journalists locally.
The NYT has written back to Kenya’s media watchdog, in a battle that looks set to continue.