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Let the experts speak, but stay in the driver’s seat

Upon breaking news last Thursday that Sh2 billion in fake US dollar bills was found at Barclays Bank Queensway branch in Nairobi, KTN’s Linda Oguttu misspoke.

That evening on March 19, the usually sharp interviewer hosted an economist and a security expert after 8pm on the KTN News.

The economist, a Mr. Ken Gichinga, was explaining that it would be physically impossible to stash 2 billion dollar bills into a safety deposit box the size of post office box — or any box at a bank, for that matter — without raising eyebrows.

At this point, Oguttu jumped in with what can be considered a damaging comment: “There must have been insider collaboration!”

That can be damaging on multiple levels.

One, a programme host inferred out loud facts not on record. Journalists have no business hypothesising. Whether reporting or hosting a show, journalists deal in facts only. Hypothesis is not fact.

Two, the talk show host drew conclusions for the viewer. Wrong. Logical or not, doesn’t matter.

Three, the business of a talk show host is to steer debate. Yes, ask probing questions. Do follow ups. If an interviewee is skirting a question, come at them from different directions. Rephrase. Suggest an answer if you must and have them confirm or deny. But do not swap seats. Do not become the expert. Or an witness.  Let the experts speak.

Talking about experts, sometimes they get carried away. Every expert speaks their own lingo. A security expert may start rambling about “an operation,” “counter-offensive measures,” “evasive manoeuvres,” all sorts of mumbo jumbo. It’s the job the show host to help the audience make sense of stuff.

On this front, a talk show host on Lolwe TV, the Luo network, lost her viewers last Sunday afternoon.

Eva Aenda was on March 24 hosting a Dr. Tony Oyieyo to educate about ovarian cist in women’s health. The good doctor on a Luo channel with a Luo audience spoke about 60 per cent Dholuo and 40 per cent English. Body organs were all in English. Symptoms were all in English. The host made no attempt to translate or clarify.

A seasoned interviewer, without being disruptive, will conversationally interject with translations or swift explanation for her audience. Do this a few times and a guest with basic emotional intelligence should pick your cue. They’ll become conscious about their “lay” audience. And they’ll start making visible effort to communicate with the audience. Or pause to find proper diction.

Instead, if you let experts blab away mumbo jumbo, the audience will grab their remotes and press a button you don’t like.

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