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Fifth Estate

No alternative facts in news please!

Personal opinion in the media should be left to the opinion and commentary pages! We have cheapened media and content. Factual and in-depth journalism has space on the table and while it remains expensive, demanding and not easy, that is what separates journalism from fiction writing. Over-generalization and stereotyping have no space in the media.

The dramatization of news and focus on news only as an item for sale is killing it. And to allow yours news bulletin or lead news items to be sponsored is the lowest you can allow your media outlet to go.

It has nothing to do with dwindling revenues for the media – not even COVID 19 pandemic.

It is failure on our part to meet the basics just like we tell us others, there are those lines that we cannot cross and expect to audit others!

Let news be about facts and the truth and where it is humor, advertiser’s announcement, opinion or street talk, it is professional that we label it as such.

Gambling should be left to casinos, otherwise why ban betting and vet betting advertisements yet allow such in all our media space. By the way, those licensing betting, do you ever know, there are an advertiser’s code of conduct!

And these adverts on healers, Waganga kutoka Tanga or Kitui or the “kamaliza squad”, what are public editors or those in charge of content in the media doing to stop them? Must they wait to be told by external people that there is no cure for “mapenzi”.

Once media house executives sign an MoU with a particular corporate or County Government, how are journalists in that media house expected to cover such entity going forward? Are marketing strategies working for example for alcohol, bread or banking suitable for media outlets?

While the face of mean-looking fellows in tattered jeans, tough insensitive and never give-a-damn guys have changed over the years, the basic tenets of journalism practice remain the same: responsible and professional service to the people seeking and reporting the truth, minimizing harm in the society, being accountable and transparent and above all, using professional and independent judgment while serving public interest.

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Without necessarily gagging people, while showing the true face of some of our leaders, media will have to rise up and say no to some stories that might push the country to the brink of a precipice. The level of intolerance and frustration from both sides of the political divide is evident, and the media has been the most used as a market place of ideas, but where clearly the people given space in the media have no idea, please don’t allow pedestrian talk to spread. Let people use their personal publicity spaces to do their dirty work.

The most noticeable challenge facing the media in Kenya is competition for audience and advertisement revenue where we have seen a highly commercialized media employing cost cutting operations strategy, linear and over-quoted sources largely elites in towns, routine sources for news from pre-planned events.

Digital migration has seen an increased number of more media outlets, government spending on advertisement is reducing, we have seen media concentration and cross-ownership in terms of media ownership, editorial influence by the big corporates.

We have seen cases where journalists work for media houses while at the same time doing some work for county governments or taking up roles as media and publicity advisors for politicians.

A lot of people now want media attention and coverage; the big players in the country especially the political and business class have invested in media campaigns and will want to sway public opinion to their side.

They will cry out and blame media whenever critical stories come out on them. At the same time, a number of media relations brokers/middlemen and quacks are in the market in search of the politicians’ millions in the name of fixing their publicity problems. Many with past media working connections have acquired fancy media equipment including cameras, recorders, and notebooks and have media badges, to convince none suspecting Kenyans of how they will secure media coverage; especially positive stories covered or negative ones killed, but their only interest is the money.

Media should not allow itself to be used as the flame for violence, hate speech and tool for radicalizing Kenyans on non- issues. The media must remain vigilant and only allow ideas that facilitate dialogue and responsible conversations informed by the need to enable Kenyans get reliable and factual information. Let the media be brutal to those fake news peddlers by setting strong fact-checking desks, establish internal mechanisms for identifying hate speech and allow more diversity in sourcing stories.

More importantly, the safety of journalists is paramount

Kenyans should know that not everyone wielding a camera, recorder and notebook is a journalist working for a legitimate and credible media outlet. Many are mere cons and brokers looking for your money. Misrepresentation as most of the quacks in the industry do is a criminal offence that must be punished.

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The writer is the deoutt CEO at the Media Council of Kenya.



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