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Saturday, September 21, 2019
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Seares: Leaving out race, nationality in crime stories: suspects, victims

NEWSPAPER A:

Mandaue City Police are now investigating the ambush-slay of a Filipino-Chinese businessman and the wounding of his children on Sunday night, June 16.

Newspaper B:

A Filipino-Chinese businessman was killed while two of his children were wounded when they were ambushed in Barangay Cubacub, Mandaue City Sunday night.

Newspaper C:

An unidentified man opened the front door on the driver’s side of the van driven by businessman Yi Feng Guo Yang in Barangay Cubacub, Mandaue City... Yang was later shot dead while his two children were wounded in the attack.

There’s not much difference in the way the lead paragraph of the same June 17, 2019 crime story was written in three news media outlets, except for one fact omitted in one of the versions.

The third version, by a local paper, didn’t mention nationality or citizenship of the victim while the first two, by a Manila-based daily and a local paper, described the victim as Filipino-Chinese.

Did the third paper leave out the victim’s racial origin victim by mistake? The intention to omit the specific nationality was clear. The only reference to it was in the fifth paragraph, which said, “After verifying with the Chinese consulate in Cebu City, police learned that Yang and his two children were Philippine passport holders.”

Basic rule

The rule of thumb is “When there is no need to highlight ethnicity–it does not need to be highlighted.”

“Identification by race,” according to the Associated Press Stylebook, is “pertinent (a) in biographical and announcement stories, particularly when they involve a feat or appointment not routinely associated with the members of a particular race and (b) when it provides the reader with a substantial insight into conflicting emotions... involved in a demonstration or similar event.”

That AP rule is not “pertinent” to the killing of the Mandaue businessman or in most crime stories. Besides, omitting race or nationality applies mostly to suspects, to avoid profiling and promoting discrimination. And even that rule has exceptions, especially when the information is useful to members of the community in identifying the attacker or avoiding harm to themselves.

What to ask

The practical question the editor may ask, aside from consulting the newsroom’s stylebook, is this: Is identification of the victim the sort of information most readers want to know? Like “Is he Chinese, Korean or what?” Then what the heck, give the fact to your readers so they don’t need to go elsewhere for it.

By the way, how should Yi Feng Guo Yang be addressed in the second reference? One news story said Yang. Shouldn’t it be Yi since the first name among Chinese is the family name? And the “Filipino-Chinese” tag: Was Yi originally Filipino but became a Chinese citizen, or was he of Chinese descent who became Filipino? Or was he just a Chinese national doing business in the country?

That unavoidably raises the matter of Chinese nationals who will possibly get into local stories because hordes of them have been coming here lately, courtesy of our friendly policy towards China.

If one such Chinese national becomes a suspect or victim of a crime, should media omit his nationality or race in the news story?


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