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GUEST COLUMN: Talk shows must uphold media ethics

Victor Bwire

Live discussion programs and talk shows are dominating our media – radio, TV and online platforms. It’s a welcome development as media tries to enhance audience-led programming, expand feedback and user involvement in content generation and deal with the critical issue of diversity. When professionally moderated, this is the way to go for media.

Unfortunately, this is not the case as most talk shows and call-in programmes, especially those hosted by comedians and other media personalities, have become monologues instead of being informative and interactive. From the choice of guests, moderation of discussions, choice of responses to allow on air or tweets, the shows leave a lot to be desired. It’s clear the media is no longer the source of credible information it used to be.

Many of these programmes have very little regard for The Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya as provided for under the Media Council of Kenya Act Schedule two, the Program Code for Broadcasters issued by the Communication Authority of Kenya or even their own internal editorial guidelines. That’s why the MCK is developing specific guidelines for the media personalities and practitioners to deal with the issue.

Journalists must maintain professionalism in their programmes, work and studios, lest they are taken to be a rogue with no standards. The language and behaviour of some of the guests is a shame. Freedom of expression comes with responsibility and journalists, and by extension media houses, must be strict on not only choosing who to invite for the live shows but more on the safety of their staff and preparations with their hosts before going on air.

The aim of an interview or discussion programme is to have the interviewee/guest provide facts, reasons or opinions on a particular topic, which is expected to help the listener to form a conclusion as to the validity of what he/she is saying. The host or presenter has the responsibility to obtain sufficient briefing and background information on the subject, the guest including meeting before the programme time to break the ice and asses the condition of the guest.

When an interview degenerates into shouting, we lose big time especially when the programme could have enabled citizens to make a decision on the leaders they want. The media has a duty to debunk myths, stereotypes and counter fake news.

By allowing guests to control the discussions and raise public emotions through speech that would lead to incitement, discrimination, increasing hostility or violence based on ethnic hatred, the media violates journalistic principles.

 

It’s important now more than ever that all people before microphones or who are involved in generation of content are exposed to the professional code of ethics, irrespective of whether they are media personalities or practitioners.

 

The latest move by the Council to offer mandatory training on the code of ethics and the newly developed guidelines for hosts and studio presenters is an effort to professionalise the industry. They will get special passes/certificates to differentiate them from journalists with press cards. Random checks will be done to weed out those without such passes.

In addition to language issues, the public has also raised concern with choice of topic, culturally insensitive panellists and presenters, lack of substance and poor knowledge on the topic of discussion.

 

The writer works at the Media Council of Kenya as the Head of Media Development and Strategy and a journalists safety trainer.  [email protected]

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