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Kenyan media must go back to the drawing board

By , People Daily Digital
Thursday, July 29th, 2021 00:00 | 3 mins read
Media personnel at work. Photo/Courtesy

The leading newspapers in the world take pride in tagging themselves as papers of record.

It means something. Primarily, it means that you can trust their word. But getting to that point is a process.

First, such newspapers have a record they rely on. It means that for years they have published stories that were proved to be true. Every story, however, starts with verification. 

The reporter has to be absolutely sure of the story before penning it. Then the sub-editor desks will check and re-check to be convinced that the event took place as reported. 

The quality control editors would pour through the copy to be doubly sure that what they publish could go on record.

The editors of old had a phrase that constantly played in the mind of a journalist: “Whenever in doubt, leave it out”. 

It is this near guarantee that the stories published in the newspapers of record can withstand the test of verification –  that the story can check out in every respect – that build confidence of readers enabling them to rely on the newspaper.

In the world now inundated by social media where every little gossip goes, keen consumers of media want to know that there is one place, where they can turn to and find authentic stories, separate from the electronic superhighway gossip.

Some of the Kenyan newspapers have been simply confounding this week. This could be turning the public away from the media.

Last Saturday a leading daily carried a story that the former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, had reconciled with his erstwhile Nasa running mate; Kalonzo Musyoka. 

The Nasa partners had been feuding, each accusing the other of misdeeds. The  Raila side had accused his four partners – Kalonzo, Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetangula and Isaac Ruto of Chama cha Mashinani; who has since reconciled with the Deputy President Willam Ruto, of betrayal. 

The accusation is traced back to 2018 when Raila attended a ceremony at Uhuru Park to swear himself in as the People’s President, but his four partners were a no show.

The partners, on the other hand, accused Raila of betrayal. Their complain has been that Raila’s ODM party, had received money from the Exchequer as part of the Nasa coalition and denied them their fair share. 

Consequently, the four, but particularly Mudavadi and Kalonzo, have been loudly pronouncing the death of Nasa. 

Raila has been seeking to salvage the Nasa outfit; the genesis of newspaper reporting that Raila was keeping Kalonzo in his political corner.

But four days later, the same newspaper reported that Kalonzo had initiated the process of matching his troops out of Nasa. 

This was the exact opposite of the earlier story. It was told simply as a matter of fact as the earlier on,  and the newspaper did not feel any obligation to explain to its readers the change of position.

It was a betrayal of readers. But that was not the only story. On the same day that the paper had pronounced that Raila had persuaded Kalonzo to stick with him in the coalition, it published yet another story that the courts had given a nod to the government to postpone the elections next year. 

The truth was more complicated than that, but the newspaper carried the story anyway and left the chips to fall wherever they may.

How can readers trust the media when the stories media carry cannot be trusted? 

Kenyan media must go back to the drawing board and decide which ones among them are going to be newspapers or media of record; that they will ensure that their facts are checked and then  re-checked, and put the paper to bed, only when they were sure of the story. 

It is easy to lose credibility and Kenyan newspapers are working hard to do just that.

This trend must be reversed for every nation needs a newspaper of record. —The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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