Media mercy called for serial killer’s family

An elderly lady hid her face behind a cattail leaf fan, her hands trembling upon hearing her son’s death.

While the Chinese public released a collective sigh of relief upon the death of the alleged serial killer, an online report has directed attentions on the plight of the suspect’s family after media harassment.

Zhou Kehua, suspected of robbing and fatally shooting nine people during robberies in China, was gunned down by police in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing, on Tuesday morning.

A manhunt began last Friday after local police published Zhou’s identity, and reporters swarmed into the Ertang Village in Chongqing for the story about the “most cold-blooded bank killer in decades.”

But controversy has not been far away after an online post said a journalist from a Shaanxi-based newspaper cornered Zhou’s mother and asked questions such as whether Zhou sent his money home.

A photograph attached to the report showed the mother hide her face behind a cattail leaf fan. The reporter informed her of Zhou’s death and observed “she was dumbfounded for 20 seconds and her hand holding the fan trembled,” the report said.

After being posted on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging site, the report has met a tidal wave of negative responses, with many bloggers criticizing the “relentless and inhumane” journalism.

“A heinous criminal is still a loved son of his mother. Please stop torturing the old woman,” Xing Hainiao, a Beijing publisher, said in a post.

Some netizens also suspected reporters were prepared to hit the mother with the news in order to capture her instant reactions.

The disputed report came after Zhou was shot dead by police in the city’s Shapingba District on Tuesday morning. Zhou was said to have started the shootout after discovering he was followed by plain-clothes officers.

Chongqing police earlier launched a huge manhunt on Zhou, whose bounty reached 5.4 million yuan (850,394 U.S. dollars), saying he was “highly dangerous” and targeting people withdrawing money from banks.

Police said Zhou had been suspected of killing nine people in several Chinese cities since 2004, most recently a Chongqing police officer who was trying to stop and question Zhou last Friday.

After Zhou’s death, the cyberspace was flooded with gory pictures showing him lying in a pool of blood along with stories of how a “smart rural kid who liked reading detective stories” ended up a serial killer.

Liu Xiaocheng, who teaches journalism at Lanzhou University, said the flurry of reports based on interviews from his family could be justified as they could prompt the society to discuss the cause of the tragedy.

But Liu said the practices like the sensational handling of Zhou’s mother and photograph showing her hiding her face should be avoided as they violated the basic morals and principles in journalism.

“The media should reflect on the appropriateness of their reports — whether they were made excessively sensational and lurid, while neglecting the discussions on the social causes behind Zhou’s case,” Liu said.

Xinhua