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Reporting in Mt. Elgon: Challenges and ideas for journalists

The Media Council of Kenya held a media literacy forum in Bungoma County targeting journalists and representatives of civil society organizations. The objective was to educate journalists on the dangers of fake news and hate speech, and to engage them on local content. The forum interrogated issues in Mt Elgon and misreporting.

The event held at Bungoma Tourist Hotel on April 17 brought together 19 participants.

“My role as a journalist is to seek for information and educate the public”, noted one of the journalists. This is a true statement for all journalists, whose mandate is to advance and exercise freedom of expression. But freedom of expression should not infringe on other people’s rights as envisaged in new constitution.

Fake News and Hate speech

MCK Deputy CEO sharing on the conduct of journalists during a Media Literacy forum.

Majority of the participants showed an understanding of fake news. It was observed that some of them had been victims of fake news. Their definitions of fake news was varied, with some saying it is untrue information, misinformation, information shared with an intention to harm others, a replica of the real news but which is not credible.

“At one point we got news from a source in Mt Elgon and we aired the story, later we learnt the event never took place”, a journalist said, adding that they trusted the source and they did not see the need to verify the news as shared.

The general feeling from the participants was that fake news once shared cannot be retrieved and it can lead to an individual losing credibility. “I was on air and I got news that prominent politician Moody Awori had died. Without verifying the information, I broke the news”, noted one of the journalists. He was distressed when the news turned out to be fake..

Moreover, it was revealed at the forum that police also peddle fake news. It was reported that during clashes in Mt Elgon or when accidents happen, police give conflicting reports from those at the scene. The MCK deputy CEO Victor Bwire asked the journalists not to rely solely on their sources for information, they can mislead them. “Have a way of verifying information from your trusted sources, they can mislead you,” noted Bwire.

 “Journalists have become lazy and they do not investigate” noted Bwire. He pointed out that for credibility on the part of journalists in this era of fake news one ought to verify information before sharing. “Once I get news I have to verify by calling the relevant authorities,one of the participants said.

Editors were accused of purveying false information. “When we send stories from Mt Elgon to the editors they later skew the news, hence misinforming the public”, narrated one of the journalists. The information that ends up as news is about past issues of Mt Elgon and Sabaot Land Defense Forces (SLDF) while the current issues of land alienation are not addressed.

Challenges and ideas for journalists

Abdel Kamasai of ELPA (ELEVATE LIVELIHOODS, PEACE AND ADVOCACY ORGANIZATION) a CBO based in Mt Elgon explains challenges that the residence of Mt Elgon face.

Masuti Chemasuet, a civil society representative observed that “the source of conflict in Mt Elgon is mainly land.” Recent killings were very political but were not related to SLDF as reported in sections of the media. He urged journalists to investigate the issues of the region so that they can report facts.

Chemasuet also said that the terrain of the region has been an issue for most journalists. They spend a lot of resources to get a story because. We are sometimes forced to rely on our sources that live in places we cannot reach to get a story, a journalist said.

Clannism was also noted to play a major role in the Mt Elgon conflict, just like the deep-rooted issues of land and lack of infrastructure. Furthermore, most of those affected in the earlier conflicts have never received counseling.

Editors handling Mt. Elgon reports ought to be sensitive and invest in investigations. Journalists should always strive to go the extra mile!

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