The harrowing picture that tells a thousand words about tragedy

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PNG torture
The controversial front page of the weekend edition of The National newspaper in Papua New Guinea. Image: PMC screenshot

This is part of the front page of Papua New Guinea’s The National this weekend. Normally we would not publish such a harrowing image like this on ethical grounds. However, we wish to respond to the heartfelt pleas from the journalists covering this shocking case of the young mother Jenelyn Kennedy’s torture and death, and having to make courageous decisions about such a tragedy.

Below is a slightly edited version of the defence that Rebecca Kuku posted on her Facebook account in response to criticisms of her and The National and which she subsequently removed. The Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report is republishing this with the permission of Rebecca and her editor, Christine Banian Pakakota, as an example of courageous journalism in the public interest. – Asia Pacific Report Editor


COMMENT: By Rebecca Kuku in Port Moresby

Thank you to all those media experts, lawyers – and just about everyone who found the time in their busy schedules – to call me up in the newsroom, send an email or message me about the report and the picture of a young mother, Jenelyn Kennedy, on today’s The National newspaper. Even a Papua New Guinean student lawyer in Australia sent a complaint from her law firm to my editors.

And yes, I know it was unethical, it was distressing and graphic but her story needs to be told and what better way to do it than in a picture because a picture is worth a thousand words.

READ MORE: Tragic life and death of Jenelyn – babysitter tells of PNG torture case

Besides I had gained permission from her family, both the maternal and paternal sides.

And yes, I knew I’d be trashed. I’m not new to the industry or the criticism but you see, yesterday [Thursday], sitting in that press conference, I was torn between sobbing out loud or just punching a wall.

It was nearly deadline for the newspaper and so I made my excuses and left to go back and file …

Then I ran back up to the room and asked the family if I could use that picture. I told them straight, that it would be graphic and gruesome and against media ethics but people needed to see it for themselves to really know what she had been through and the family gave me permission to use it.

So you see, sometimes we have to make decisions that go against ethics – hard decisions. And I thank my chief editor Christine Banian Pakakota, editor Gynnie Kero and assistant editor Charles Moi for always backing me up. For making that call, that decision to have it published.

At the end of the day, it was an editorial decision and credit must go back to chief editor Christine Pakakota for making the decision to publish the picture.

Teamwork at the Big Red House
I filed it but she made the brave decision to run it! It was teamwork and that is why I am always proud to be a part of the Big Red House (The National)

I know it was a hard decision to make and so thank you.

Her story needed to be told – as a reporter, a woman, a mother, a sister, I failed to be her voice when she was alive and I’d be damned if I would fail her now in her death. Her voice needs to be heard and that picture was used to ensure her voice was loud and clear and to also awaken the authorities who seem to be sleeping, to open their eyes to the realities of gender-based violence (GBV).

Men who beat their wives can see that picture and start realising that one day they too might beat their wives to death, women who are still trapped in violent marriages can see that picture and feel empowered to leave because I’m sure no women would want to die like that.

It was a wake up call for citizens to realise the horrific realities of GBV so they can check on their daughters, sisters or freinds and help them get out before it’s too late, and so much more.

So you see. You can say all you want to say, and email, call or text… but I will stand by my decision to file that picture with the story and defend it – because it’s about time!

Five years of torture

By Rebecca Kuku in The National

Jenelyn Kennedy
Jenelyn Kennedy … died this week at 19 in a tragic domestic violence case in Papua New Guinea. Image: EMTV News

The battered body of young mother Jenelyn Kennedy lay in a morgue yesterday as relatives told of the repeated beatings she had been receiving in the past five years which had been reported to police.

Grandfather Kennedy Karava said Jenelyn had last week been subjected to another six days of beating.

She finally collapsed at the home she shared with her partner at Korobosea in Port Moresby early Tuesday morning.

Her partner was charged with wilful murder yesterday.

Karava said Jenelyn was only 15 and doing Grade Seven at the Eki Vaki Primary School when her father gave her a house in downtown to live in. She eloped with her partner in late 2015.

“We started looking for her. My son heard that they were living at 6-Mile. He lodged a complaint with the 6-Mile police station as she was under age,” he said.

“But at the police station, the officer told [my son] to come back the next day. He released Jenelyn and the partner. The next day, my son and I went to the police station and waited untill afternoon. The police station commander referred us to the Sexual Offence Unit at the Boroko police station.”

Jenelyn Kennedy’s half brother Kiloh (from left) and relative Thomas Opa. Image: The National

He said they were told to leave their contacts with police and that “they would get back to us”.
Jenelyn and her partner disappeared in 2016.

“We went back a couple of times to the police station but they said the same thing: leave a number and will call you back,” he said.

Last year, Jenelyn managed to run away from her partner and returned to her maternal family at the Murray Barracks – “with her two babies, a broken arm and a black eye”.

Uncle Dickson Karava said the partner came and took her back, and “beat her up”.

“Every time we tried to intervene, she would stop us, saying he had the money and connections and would just make her life worse.”

Her children’s babysitter, Racheal Ipang, said when she returned to her partner in October last year, “he was good to her for a week, then beat her up again”.

Ipang said Jenelyn wasn’t allowed to leave her room.

“Jenelyn sought help, went to the safe house at Ela Beach, at Kaugere, at Erima, but it was no use.”

Ipang told of how last Thursday [June 18] he had assaulted her too before turning to Jenelyn again.

“We were inside the kids’ room when I started hearing Jenelyn’s muffled cries, the noise of chains and banging on the door.

“I was scared too. There were five men in the house too but they didn’t intervene.

“He beat her from last week Thursday to Monday morning when he called for a doctor [named] to treat her at home.”

She said after the doctor left, he beat her again.

“Her screams stopped at around 3am [Tuesday]. I believe that’s when she passed away.”

Journalist Rebecca Kuku has a special Facebook page called Becky’s World where she discusses GBV issues.

#IMayHaveOnlyOneMatchButICanMakeAnExplosion
#BigRedHouse
#JusticeForJenelyn
#LetHerVoiceBeHeardNow

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