Crime reporting a high-risk beat, especially for women

A crime scene. Few women journalists, worldwide, report on crime and violence according to Global Media Monitoring Project 2020 report.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Few women journalists, worldwide, report on crime and violence compared to social and legal issues.
  • In 2015, only nine per cent of women reported crime and violence compared to 13 per cent on social and legal matters.
  • Joseph Muraya, who has reported on crime for nearly a decade, describes his crime reporting experience as thrilling and exciting.

Few women journalists, worldwide, report on crime and violence compared to social and legal issues according to Global Media Monitoring Project 2020 report Who Makes the News by World Association for Christian Communication.

In 2015, only nine per cent of women reported crime and violence compared to 13 per cent on social and legal matters.

In 2020, the number of women reporters on crime and violence beat reduced to five per cent, while more (14 per cent) reported on social and legal issues.

However, based on the report, more women than men (eight per cent) were on the beat in 2015, but the number declined too, to five per cent in 2020.

I interviewed two women crime reporters who despite the intimidation and death threats have not thrown in the towel.

The two who work for print, however, preferred to remain anonymous. They both said they have stayed put because of their strong passion for their work.

“Several times I received death threats from cops and criminals whose stories I had published,” she said.

“One time, a member of a criminal group took a photo of me as I crossed the road in Nairobi city centre and shared it with me on WhatsApp. He accompanied it with a message ‘we know you’,” added the journalist who actively reported on crime between 2013 and 2019.

She briefly served as a lead crime reporter before she was promoted to a regional editor.

The second woman crime reporter also said she has, on several occasions, been intimidated and threatened but passion has kept her going. She has been on the beat for nearly five years.

She said one time, robbers broke into her house and took away everything. This was after she published an exposé on the criminal activities of a local leader.

But the story is not so much different for male reporters. I speak with Joseph Muraya, who has reported on crime for nearly a decade.

He describes his crime reporting experience as thrilling and exciting. From 2013 to 2020, he was an active crime reporter attached to a local media house. 

Robbery incident

While sharing his crime reporting journey, Mr Muraya states he has seen and gone through it all.

“Crime reporting is unpredictable. There is something new every day. It is thrilling in the sense that you will tell a different story in a different way,” he says. 

Mr Muraya got into crime reporting by chance after landing a job in 2013. He was randomly assigned a crime beat in Kawangware, Dagoretti North Sub-county in Nairobi County.

"My news editor assigned me to cover a robbery incident in Kawangware. He was once a crime reporter and had recently been promoted. The police had killed four robbers. I found their bodies lying on the ground. They were in bad shape," he said.

According to Mr Muraya, he was left traumatised by the incident to a point he couldn't eat meat for a while. Following the incident, he witnessed similar occurrences until "I became immune, or so I thought."

Trauma would soon catch up with him. His anger was unmanageable; he would smash things around at the slightest argument.

"It prompted me to self-reflection. I had to make some decisions which I cannot talk about," he says.

Mr Muraya stopped following up with news content to avoid secondary trauma as a defence mechanism.

"In the African set-up, men have been brought up such that they view debriefing (as a sign of) weakness," he notes.

On several occasions, he had received threats from sources unhappy with him exposing criminal activities and human rights violations in Nairobi.

Terror gang

But when a terror gang put him on a death list, it shook him to the bone that he had to change his work pattern and mobile number. 

In 2017, he spent six weeks investigating the undertakings of a terror gang commonly known as Gaza. The criminal group and its affiliate gangs were responsible for killing people in Eastleigh and Kayole.

The group was also violently robbing residents and controlling dumpsites in the respective areas. He had spent days and nights with the gang members witnessing their criminal activities first-hand.

Notably, Mr Muraya had informed the gang that he was a journalist, and they consented to the documentation.

When the story was published, he had a nightmare of his life. The gang was on his case.

"They called me asking, 'why are you tarnishing our name?' Thereafter, I started to receive calls from the police threatening me,” he narrates.

“Both the gang and the police said they were coming for me. I knew this is a death threat I would not ignore. These were armed criminals and armed police. I knew they would track me using my phone. So I discarded the SIM card,” he says. 

He says crime reporting is a high-risk beat and even more challenging for women considering the nature of newsgathering.

"Crime journalists have been killed for doing their work," he says.

In 2009, Francis Nyaruri, a reporter with Weekly Citizen, was killed in Kisii by two police officers and two members of Sungusungu, a criminal gang in the county, according to a 2012 report by Committee to Protect Journalists. The report notes that Mr Nyaruri was at the time investigating local officials accused of mismanaging construction materials meant for a police housing project.

Data from Article 19, a media freedom lobby group, indicates that eight journalists were killed in Kenya between 2009 and 2020. It has, however, not broken down the data according to the topics covered by the deceased.

But according to the 2021 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization report Threats that Silence: Trends in the Safety of Journalists,400 journalists across the world were killed between 2016 and 2020.

"For the crime reporters, their sources are police officers, whistle-blowers, and people who commit crimes. For instance, in my case I was interviewing criminals who had killed, stabbed women and defiled girls. By exposing a woman journalist to this kind of a gang, you're exposing her to sexual harassment.

One time, I went to Kamiti Maximum Prison to cover an event with a woman journalist. The boys (prisoners) were excited to see her. I could tell she was extremely uncomfortable and today, she does not want anything to do with crime reporting," Mr Muraya adds. 

Mr Muraya left the newsroom in 2020 to pursue consultancy in security and communication. He also does freelance writing on crime, peace and human rights.

He is the current Secretary-General of the Crime Journalists Association of Kenya (CJAK). The body has 70 Kenyan journalists writing on peace, security, and human rights across East Africa and the Horn of Africa. It was officially registered in 2020. He says there are less than 15 women journalists in CJAK.

“We are in the process of recruiting women journalists interested in reporting on crime. We want to nurture them to build their careers in crime reporting,” he says.

This story was supported by Code for Africa’s WanaData initiative and the World Association for Christian Communication.