Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Media asked to correct innacurate Kenyan anti-gay pogrom reports

By Paul Canning

Following my complaint to the BBC I received this response:
Thank you for your interest in the website.

We use inverted commas around words in headlines to indicate that something is claimed but not confirmed.

In the story you mention, the idea that there was a gay wedding came from local officials and police and had not been confirmed by one of our reporters, so we put it in inverted commas. It is attributed in the story to district officer George Matandura. We did not report it as fact.

Likewise, the word gay is put in inverted commas because it is an accusation made by the police in a country where homosexuality is illegal. To state as fact that those arrested are gay could harm their legal defence in the event of a trial.

Kind regards

Joe Boyle
BBC News website, Africa desk
In reply I told Joe that Kenyan gay organisations say that the BBC reporter was told at the Kemri clinic on the Thursday prior to the first riot that there never was a wedding. I did not say this but really it should be blindingly obvious not just that there couldn't have been any wedding but there wouldn't be one going ahead - a theme of media reports - on the Saturday following days of media incitement to 'find (and kill) the gays'.

The major failure though is the absence from the BBC and agency reports of the media and clerical
incitement to massacre and their coordination with police. None of them have carried the statements by Kenyan gay groups about the attempted pogrom.

I have asked for corrections from, the New York Times and the Guardian.

The following is the text of my complaint to the BBC:
BBC: Kenyan police raid 'gay wedding' and arrest five men

Summary: Innacurate misreporting aided media incitement of pogrom

This article is based on coverage in Kenyan media as well as statements by local police. It includes one brief reference to a Kenyan gay source.

Statements made detailing the events from Kenyan gay and human rights sources since have catalogued local police complicity in an attempted pogrom organised from local clerics and politicians and aided by media incitement.

They also say that the BBC was amongst media which was told prior to the first riot that the source - the wedding claim - was false. However this was not included.

The debunking of the events and claims by Kenyan organisations of an attempted, incited pogrom of gays have not been reported by the BBC.

Further, in his response to my original complaint, Joe Boyle, BBC News website, Africa desk, says that the headline used, which had 'gay' in inverted commas, was because it was not confirmed that those arrested were gay. However this could have been confirmed by the local groups which say they were not spoken to.

In addition, those groups could have confirmed that the supposed wedding was a concoction as they would know that it was both impossible and something Kenyan gays wouldn't do. It, infact, from their perspective, beggars belief that it would even be entertained as a possibility, let alone that following days of media incitement that it would go ahead.

Your reporter in failing to speak with gay organisations failed to understand this and your reporting ended up being part of the incitement (rioting happened on the Saturday and further demonstrations are planned) and playing down of what was a pogrom.

It was completely comparable with the incitement prior to the genocide in Rwanda. Replace 'gay' with 'Tutsi' and re-read the reports.

The very least the BBC could do is report on the statements of local gay and human rights organisations. It should not let the statements of those who attempted the pogrom stand as its sole coverage of these events.

Statements by the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya:

Statement by Gay Activists Alliance International Africa:


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