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Deny, deny, deny: So, what is the truth?

What a week! Big denials of media reports.

 Here’s something: If officials deny a news report, the story is most likely true. The task of the journalist then comes down to this single question: What are these guys trying to hide and why? Great journalism has come from this line of inquiry. And in this era of heavy spin and fake news, no journalist worth their salt takes official statements at face value. More skepticism is required, not less.

 There were several high-profile denials last week. But instead of the media pursuing these certainly important stories, they simply published the denials and went on with life. Where are your sources? Big F. The public was left the poorer, unable to know exactly what was going on.

 First off, the vanishing forests. No government official wakes up one fine morning, calls up journalists to his home and proceeds to outline for them a government plan that exists only in his imagination. But that is what we are supposed to believe happened at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

 Last Sunday, reports emerged in the media that the ministry planned to install CCTV cameras in all public forests to monitor and prevent deforestation.

According to the Nation, Environment PS Charles Sunkuli “said the cameras will be put up at the key entry points in and outside the forests to monitor movement of resources. The PS was addressing journalists at his Olesentu home in Narok County.”

The Star newspaper carried a similar report.

But within hours, Environment and Forestry Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko denied the report. He was not aware nor had he approved the rollout of CCTV systems in any forest, he said in a statement to newsrooms.

Rather, the ministry is in the process of finalizing proposals to empower Kenya Forest Service rangers with the necessary equipment and resources to do their work, but that does not include CCTV systems, Tobiko stated.

The CCTV issue sparked considerable debate on social media. CCTV cameras were, not very long ago, touted as the cure for crime in Nairobbery. But is the city any safer now, people asked?

The cameras could be installed at the gates of forests, but everyone knows illegal loggers don’t go through those gates seeking permission to fill their trucks. And how could the cameras work at night or even during the day in dense forests? Light up all the forests 24 hours a day as well? That could only happen in the mythical world of Kusadikika.

So, from what hat did PS Sunkuli pull out the CCTV plans, if his boss was unaware of them? Government operates on tight protocol. It is almost impossible that Sunkuli could tell reporters about CCTV cameras only he was aware of.

If the reporters were completely satisfied that the PS was as sober as a judge while giving them the story – and we have no reason to believe he wasn’t – shouldn’t they have asked him for details of the plan? Had mapping/feasibility studies been done? By whom? When? How would the systems exactly operate? Hiring and training of specialist personnel? Any tenders awarded? Any timelines?

Would a senior government official, a PS, really talk about things he was not sure of? What would be his motive for spreading rumours? There seems to be more to this CCTV saga than meets the eye. And it is the work of journalists to find out.

While the CCTV story raged, Mombasa Governor and ODM Deputy Party Leader was issuing his own denials.

The Standard had carried a prominent report on p.19 titled, “I am now ready to work with President Uhuru, says Joho.”

“In an interview with the Sunday Standard, Joho said after Uhuru’s pact with Raila he was now ready to engage with the Jubilee government to serve the people of Mombasa,” The Standard wrote.

“Raila is my party leader and he has made a move which I believe is in the best interest of the country. As the deputy leader in ODM I side with him. I am willing to engage Jubilee government on development,” Joho was quoted as saying.

According to The Standard, he spoke to them from Estonia where he led a delegation from his county in an investment meeting.

But Governor Joho denied ever speaking to The Standard.

In a statement posted on social media and on the Mombasa County website, he said: “I wish to state that, while I remain committed to any process that pursues peace, unity and justice in Kenya, I have not held ANY conversation with any journalist on the issues in the article. I am further bewildered that there’s a headline article with a quote from me.”

So, who was telling the truth: The Standard or Governor Joho? Did he speak to The Standard or not?

Enquiries by The Observer established that The Standard did not interview Governor Joho for this story. Instead, the journalist concerned spoke to the Director of Communications Mombasa, Richard Chacha, who in turn reportedly spoke to his boss on phone and then told The Standard reporter Joho’s position on the matter.

A rather roundabout way of doing journalism, isn’t it? But it is understandable, given how difficult it often is for a journalist to get an interview with the big people.

Still, this story fails on accuracy. First, The Standard did not speak directly to Governor Joho on the telephone to Estonia, as they claimed. And two, the words attributed to Joho are not his. The Standard spoke to the Director of Communications in Mombasa County, Richard Chacha, who explained the governor’s position. Therefore, who was the right person to attribute the information to, Chacha or his boss?

Another denial was by the National Police Service Commission (NPSC). At the start of the week there were reports that hundreds of cops were contemplating quitting the service – and several had already handed in their resignations – after the NPSC implemented severe salary cuts for graduate and disabled officers.

Public reaction to the news was mixed. Why a lot of Kenyans just don’t like police officers ought to be the theme for a national day of prayer and repentance.

Some time on Monday, a well-connected blogger twitted: “I have received information from credible sources that the decision to slash police constable salaries will be reversed. Glad that the government has acted swiftly on this one.”

NPSC chairman Johnston Kavuludi came out to say he had never heard of police salary cuts. Ever. He had not seen a single resignation letter. He had confirmed his facts with the NPSC CEO and the Inspector General of Police, he said.

The Nation (20 Tuesday, p.9) quoted Kavuludi as saying that, “Nobody has had a pay cut but we are carrying out a human resource audit and payroll to determine what it takes to receive a certain salary.”

 That sounds funny. Why would such a harmless management exercise cause jitters and resignations among police officers? Were all those stories told by officers fake? Why would the officers tell journalists fake stories?

What was Kavuludi actually trying to hide and why? Journalists should find out.

And then several news reports last Wednesday quoted Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i launching a nationwide crackdown on illicit brews. Speaking in Kiambu, Matiang’i was reported to have ordered the immediate closure of all pubs in the county. Kiambu has not less than 3,000 watering holes. The owners should seek new licences. The next day, Matiang’i said he gave no such directive. Uh?

It is not enough for the media to report denials. Regardless of who is involved, denial of a news report damages the credibility of the media as reliable sources of information for the public. Journalists should push back by exposing what is behind the denial. It is usually big stuff.

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