Thursday 13 November 2008 (16 Dhul Qa`dah 1429)

      Writing about crime
      Abdullah Al-Jamili | Al-Madinah 
      A while ago, people in Madinah had a shock when they learned that an 
expatriate had raped a six-year-old girl on the roof of the building where she 
lived. But they had an even greater shock when one who claimed to be a 
journalist, taking advantage of the innocence of the victim, photographed her 
in front of her house and published the pictures in the belief that he was 
making a scoop. He was totally unaware of the psychological and social pains 
the family of the victim would suffer in the future as a result of his 
thoughtless crime.

      I am writing this having in mind what has lately surfaced in our media, 
especially the print media. Our newspapers have of late begun to expand their 
coverage of crimes giving minute details. It seems that this phenomenon is one 
of the effects of globalization. It also seems that our newspapers have copied 
Egyptian ones that have special crime pages on a daily basis. They even publish 
special supplements and weekly magazines dedicated to crime.

      If journalism is the fourth estate, the mirror of society and a tool to 
correct it, can it be considered that the publishing of news about accidents 
and crimes will lead to the correction and reform of society or does it lead to 
the commission of more crimes?

      There are a number of studies and articles on this subject, including one 
by Khaled Al-Rabaan, on the website of Asbar Center for Studies, Research and 
Communications ( The studies show the existence of two 
groups. One supports the publishing of news about crime on the grounds that it 
shows the real face of society without any alteration. This group says that not 
publicizing crimes will create an illusion that society is peopled by angels 
where there are no crimes at all. This group is also of the opinion that the 
publishing of news about crime will immunize society and enhance awareness 
about various forms of crimes so that people will become vigilant. They say 
publishing news about crimes will lead to justice, as criminals will be caught 
and their punishment will increase the confidence of society in the security 
and judicial systems. They use the logic that crime is news and the duty of 
newspapers is to publish news.

      The other group, which opposes the publishing of such news, claims that 
printing the details of crimes provides free lessons to young criminals, 
inculcates fear in society, mitigates its confidence in security organs and 
portrays a bad picture of the country to the outside world. They also say that 
newspapers sensationalize crime and their hasty verdicts may rouse public 
opinion against suspects in criminal cases, causing them great harm even after 
the accused have been proven innocent.

      In light of all this, I think there is a need for moderation. Specialists 
in media, sociology and homicide should carefully study this phenomenon, weigh 
its negative and positive impacts on society and formulate rules in order to 
preserve the rights and ethics of society and its individuals and, at the same 
time, guarantee the freedom of the press. The press also should approach such 
issues with professionalism, being accurate and using only reliable sources of 
information. The crime stories should be written with complete objectivity and 
contain no hint of any personal involvement. The stories should enlighten 
society and warn it against the consequences of crimes. The crimes should not 
be used to increase newspaper circulation but rather to reform society. 
Needless to say, such things should be done by professional journalists who are 
well aware of the consequences of publishing such stories.

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