Media devastation of family tragedy

The tragedy that shocked North Mitrovica and the region in late May – when 29-year-old B.M., according to preliminary investigation, reportedly murdered his twin brother B.U. in his sleep and their 66-year-old father B.M, a well-known former prosecutor and lawyer – captured the headlines of local and regional media.

Serbian tabloids shared inaccurate and unconfirmed details of the case, which differed from the official version of the event. Kosovan media published a paparazzi video showing the suspect, wearing handcuffs, leaving the hospital accompanied by the police, as well as a recording of a group of young men – friends of the twins, who were filmed shouting and running toward the suspect. The influential Albanian media outlet „Top Channel“ may have even taken the lead in inaccurately reporting about the tragedy. The code of ethics of reporting and the rights and dignity of both the victims and the suspect were thus violated.

The double family murder took place in the early morning on May 27th in downtown North Mitrovica, in the apartment of the well-known Mitrovica prosecutor B.M. – and one of the victims.

As both the police and the Basic Prosecutor’s Office in Mitrovica confirmed on the same day, 29-year old B.M. is suspected of murdering his father and twin brother B.U.

The police found the suspect waiting for them at the scene of the crime. They reveal that the suspect did not resist arrest and that he has since been remanded month-long custody.

Earlier this week, the Deputy Commander of the Kosovo Police for the region north, Besim Hoti, confirmed some of the allegations for KoSSev. Hoti also presented the findings of the police investigation so far.

The KP deputy commander revealed that the police were notified about the murder around 6 am on May 27th and that they reacted immediately. He confirmed that the neighbors, woken up by the father of the suspect who sustained severe injuries and later succumbed to them, called the ambulance.

In the apartment, the police uncovered the lifeless body of B.U. The suspect, who did not resist arrest, was found waiting for the police to arrive.

The police immediately secured the crime scene. The suspect was apprehended by the police. The regional investigation unit and the on-duty public prosecutor examined the scene.

As per the procedure, especially when it comes to major crimes such as this one, B.M. was transported to North Mitrovica hospital for a medical examination. Specialist examinations are carried out in the second phase, Hoti adds.

„The police have information, acquired both from witnesses and by processing the statement given to the prosecutor by the suspect. The story corresponds that the suspect first fatally wounded his twin brother while the deceased was sleeping. He left the murder knife in the body of the deceased, waited for his father to wake up, and then used two knives to attack his father. The father managed to get out and seek help, despite his severe injuries,“ Hoti said.

According to preliminary information, Hoti adds, the suspect is an „unstable individual“.

It remains to be determined, however, whether B.M was „under the influence of drugs.“ The motive for the crime still remains unknown, i.e. court experts have yet to determine whether to take the suspect’s statement as a motive, Hoti reveals.

„He told us that he planned to kill his father 10 days before the murder and to murder his brother allegedly to prevent him from stopping him from carrying this out. We still don’t know his health condition, more precisely, whether he was depressed, or whether he used narcotics. As the police, we cannot determine his mental state in general because that is the second level of investigation. The special expertise will be carried out by the competent authorities,“ Hoti explains.

First reports: Misinformation, unconfirmed details, exploitation of the tragedy

While some newsrooms were struggling to obtain official information, unwilling to publish unconfirmed data, the tabloids already had prepared headlines, even before the official statement of the police arrived.

When reporting on tragedies, tabloids often place special emphasis on clickbait headlines. These headlines, along with capital letters, exclamations, descriptions, and emotionally charged content, additionally highlight tragedy and misfortune. They often make allegations about (alleged) murderers, presenting alleged crime scenes as facts, and reveal the identities of victims and suspected perpetrators, as well as their families. This tragedy was no exception.

PHOTO Murdered lawyer from North Mitrovica slain in a knife attack by son

THE SON OF A FAMOUS LAWYER FOUND WITH BLOODY HANDS! He turned his head away from his murdered twin, while the butchered father WRITHED IN PAIN

TWO OBITUARIES NEXT TO EACH OTHER X (full name published in the original news piece) killed his twin brother X (full name published in the original news) and father X (full name published in the original news), entire Kosovska Mitrovica in mourning: The brothers were close, he SOBBED terribly when the police arrived

X (full name published in the headline of the original news) ATTACKED BROTHER AND FATHER IN A PSYCHOTIC EPISODE: Mother reveals possible cause of crime in Kosovska Mitrovica

HE BUTCHERED THEM AS IF POSSESSED BY THE UNHOLY: Neighbors on X (full name published in the headline) who killed twin brother and father, NEW SHOCKING DETAILS OF TERRIBLE CRIME

Before the confirmation and details of the case had even arrived from the police, some media reported that the brother actually died after the father, while attempting to save him, and that the suspect first attacked the father. This, however, turned out to be false information. Also, some media reported that a conflict broke out between the brothers and the father.

„The tragedy was preceded by a family conflict involving two brothers and the father,“ Republika writes. In the same text, they published several incorrect information:

„According to the data from the investigation so far, he first stabbed his father, while his twin brother X (full name published in the original news) sustained several stab wounds while trying to push X (full name published in the original news) and save his father. As a result of the injuries, he died at the scene.“

The same portal also reported about the suspect, whose name they revealed in full, as a confirmed killer.

They also referred to unofficial information that the suspect was found standing “at one corner of the room with his hands bloody and crying. He did not resist arrest, but he also did not speak, he just sobbed.“

Similarly, Blic daily described it as an „awful sob“.

Several media outlets reported that the suspect purportedly cried at the scene. However, the police report does not state that the suspect cried or sobbed, Hoti told KoSSev.

This false information was then picked up and published by the regional media.

„Unofficially, Novosti has learned that the parents of the twin brothers have been divorced for a long time, that one of the sons allegedly lived with his father, and the other with his mother. Also, what could be heard around town yesterday is that X (full name published in the title of the original news) came to his brother and father’s apartment that morning and that he first attacked X (full name published in the title of the original news), and that he stabbed his brother who tried to protect his severely wounded father,“ Bosnian Avaz quoted a Novosti report as saying.

Although some media outlets initially referred to an alleged statement of a local spokesman for the Kosovo Police, he did not provide any information to the local media about the conflict:

“On May 27th, at around 5.55 am, in the family apartment in Kralja Petra I in North Mitrovica, under still unexplained circumstances, an aggravated murder took place. The case involves members of the immediate family. The suspect was arrested and is under police control. The investigation is being conducted under the supervision of the prosecutor of the Basic Court in Mitrovica. The regional investigation unit is taking all necessary measures to shed light on the motives of this crime,“ said Lieutenant Branislav Radovic.

Other tabloids, such as Kurir, also shared similar reports with fabricated details of the case – from the murdered brother’s attempt to help his father attendance the scene police found when they entered the apartment.

Some of them, such as the Informer tabloid, especially exaggerated the tragedy:

„When the policemen entered the apartment where the double murder took place, in one room, they found X (full name published in the title of the original news) with bloody hands. He held his head and cried, turning to the wall so as not to look at the lifeless body of his twin brother, our source reveals.“

The same text cites various unnamed sources, such as unnamed „neighbors“, two versions of the tragedy, although with the caveat that „it was not possible to verify this with the police.“ Informer also makes mention of a possible clash between brothers over property, revealing the detail that both twins were employed.

„I heard that X (full name published in the title of the original news) ran out of the apartment badly injured and that X (full name published in the title of the original news) tried to take the knife from X (full name published in the title of the original news). Then he supposedly turned to his brother and started stabbing him, says a neighbor“ – reads one of the versions published by Informer.

According to the other version, however:

„X (full name published in the title of the original news) came to his brother and father’s apartment literally half an hour before the bloodshed.“

Several media outlets claimed that the suspect entered the apartment just before the crime was committed, but Hoti notes that the investigation established that the suspect B.M. stayed in the apartment at the time the crime was committed, including the night before the tragedy.

Other tabloids shared alleged details of their family life.

These media outlets simply copied the information from other outlets and published it with a somewhat modified title, while also sharing private details from the life of this tragic family which were mutually contradictory – from the fact that both brothers worked to details that only one of them did (victim), to contradictory information about where the brothers lived.

The alleged statement of the mother B.T. for Republika that the suspect B.M. was unemployed and that he „became depressed“ was soon transmitted by numerous tabloids. They also shared headlines with claims about the alleged diagnosis, i.e. the mental state of the suspect.

In the race for sensationalism, despite the code of ethics for the protection of victims and the public, and the lack of official confirmations, the authors of such texts were not hindered from publishing unofficial, even incorrect information.

Data leaks, publication of unverified information, and health information are prohibited

According to the Code of Journalists of Serbia and other world codes, publishing unverified or information obtained via „data leaks“ is strictly prohibited, journalist Tamara Skrozza reminds.

„This is especially true of data concerning ‘ordinary’ citizens, whose lives may be directly affected. The biggest no-no in this regard are the alleged data on the health status of the persons the media are reporting about. Any indication of information about someone’s physical or mental health is allowed only if it is in the EXCEPTIONAL media interest, which happens very rarely and which was not the case here. Even if that information was presented by a close relative of the person in question (in this case the mother), the media are not allowed to convey that,“ she said in an interview with KoSSev.

Kosovo media: Video of the suspect; Albanian media: the biggest fabrication

Some Kosovo portals even shared information that the police had neither provided nor confirmed.

The portal Gazeta Sinjali, along with some other portals, reported that the crime happened „after a quarrel in family X (full surname revealed in the original news), which escalated into violence and ended tragically.“ They also wrote that the suspect is a “drug user.”

The Albanian Top Channel went so far as to claim that the father and son „stabbed each other“, and that one brother, to save his father, killed his brother, and then sent his father to the hospital, who nevertheless passed away. The same media revealed the identity of the family. In the headline, they wrote that the brother „avenged“ his father.

This leading Albanian media outlet shared its take on the tragedy even after the spokesman of the Kosovo Police in the North clearly indicated that he was waiting for a report, without giving details.

While waiting for police details, the popular Kosovo portal Gazeta Express, published two amateur paparazzi videos. One of the videos showed the suspected killer, handcuffed, being taken out of the hospital by the police after an examination. The same portal published a video of a group, according to local sources, of friends of the twins who were waiting in shock for news from the hospital, as they charged toward the suspect.

While the portal alleges that the group attacked the suspect, Hoti told KoSSev that there was no physical contact.

„We know that they were friends of the victim, his late brother, but the suspect was under the control of the police, which had an obligation to protect him. There was no physical contact,“ Hoti said.

„We had no information that there could be an incident, everything happened very quickly, but the police reacted well,“ he added.

The same portal also used KoSSev’s photo without giving credit, which is not the first time this has happened.

And while the police, as Hoti explains, are not required to conceal the face of the suspect, although they are obliged to protect his safety with their bodies – the media are obligated to do so.

However, the video clearly shows the face of the suspect as the police officers are taking him out of the hospital.

Violation of the presumption of innocence

Skrozza warns of frequent violations of the presumption of innocence, but also the privacy of victims and families by the media, as was the case now – all for the sake of boosting their circulation.

„Footage of the suspects’ arrests, which we often see in the domestic media, is not in line with professional standards: it violates the presumption of innocence and the suspect’s right to privacy, and cannot be justified by any public interest,“ she said.

„In my opinion, its exclusive intention was to make the media content more attractive, and further humiliate and discredit the person who is being reported about. The media must take into account the consequences of their reporting, and here – in addition to the controversial recordings – information was published that is completely redundant, at the level of ordinary gossip and can have numerous consequences for everyone involved in this event.“

„When it comes to transmitting the material from other media, it is clear: without the permission of the media that owns the recordings, further distribution is not allowed. Without exception,“ she also stressed.

Police to ensure security, media as the dam

Hoti pointed out for KoSSev that the police endeavored to provide the prosecution with all the evidence and did not make any omissions. He also highlighted another dimension of the tragedy, which goes beyond the scope of their work, as well as professional reporting, which both sides must take into account.

„This is a tragedy that has affected the entire town, not just us as the police,“ he stressed.

Tamara Skrozza suspects a data leak, but she also emphasizes that even despite that, it is the media that defend the dignity of the victims and suspects and the public interest itself.

„I don’t know if the police made an effort and what exactly they did, but there was obviously a ‘leak’ of data from the investigation, which is the fault of the police. However, the responsibility of the media is not diminished. On the contrary. Even if the police make a mistake, the media are the ones who should be the ‘dam’ and prevent further distribution of such data. Because the media are not investigative bodies. They should protect the secrecy of the investigation, doing what is their job: informing in the public interest, in the interest of the society in which they operate,“ Skrozza, one of the most prominent Serbian and regional journalists, concluded.

The media influences lives, and often – its outcomes. That is why they bear tremendous responsibility, especially when they report falsehoods. Unfortunately, this is one of the tragedies where an incomparably lesser evil would be if the whole news had been fabricated.

Preuzimanje i objavljivanje tekstova sa portala KoSSev nije dozvoljeno bez navođenja izvora. Hvala na poštovanju etike novinarske profesije.