No sleep, no appetite: Tales of journalists covering Shakahola exhumation

Shame, immense pain and horror.

These are words that can be used to describe the emotions the country has juggled within the seven days when 100 bodies of a religious cult’s starvation by fasting victims were unearthed by police in a Kilifi County village.

Front and centre in the exercise have been journalists from various media houses and their experiences have been nothing short of traumatising.

For journalists, the task is often about getting to the bottom of the case after speaking to doctors, police officials, and other stakeholders, putting the pieces together and then narrate the story to the public. In many cases, it is a more sanitary, toned-down version that the public sees.

However, despite the blurring and censoring, the gory and distressing details and visuals remain with the journalist, which can take a toll on their mental health.

“It was my first time experiencing something like this and doing so has come with its own set of challenges. Sleeping has been difficult. I don’t have an appetite,” Roba Liban, Cameraperson stationed at Citizen TV said over the Shakahola saga.

Joseph Ieri, a journalist from Sauti ya Pwani, reiterated Liban’s statement expressing hope that they will receive psychological support in dealing with the aftermath of covering the mass grave exhumation.

“What we’ve witnessed here at Shakahola has been shocking; seeing how bodies have been stacked together in one grave. The smell lingers, which has made it difficult to eat. We are hopeful that we will get the necessary psychological support to deal with what we’ve witnessed,”

Brian Wachira from NMG indicated one of the tough parts of covering such a story was protecting the audience from any content that may traumatise them.

“Part of my job is to ensure that I act as a gatekeeper even when shooting footage of the exhumation exercise. I need to make sure that the audience doesn’t get to see the raw images of the bodies. Seeing the faces of the victims that were rescued sticks with you. You have sleepless nights. It’s not easy,” he said.

“When I speak to my family, I have found myself shouting at my family members unintentionally,” Dominic Magara of NMG said.

The Media Council of Kenya acknowledged the effects of the coverage on journalists stating its commitment to ensuring their well-being.

“As Media Council of Kenya we are speaking to our partners to ensure all journalists that have covered the Shakahola exhumation will receive the necessary psychosocial support that they need,” a representative said.

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