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Media could lose credibility over falling journalism standards

Lion Place published a curious apology on Thursday, February 11. Their reporter for The Star newspaper put words in the mouth of a source. That means he manufactured portions of the story he turned in. Unsuspecting editors approved it for publication. The rest was not history but a demand for an apology and retraction.

It would be interesting to know what the journalist’s bosses did besides going down on their knees and tendering a groveling mea culpa to the aggrieved source. Is the scribe still on the beat, Bwana Paul Ilado?

“On Thursday last week, we published a story titled, ‘Firearm holders protest delays in licenses renewal’. The story quoted former chairman of the gun owners association Anthony Wahome reportedly calling for digitisation of the process,” the apology read.

“We have since learnt that Wahome did not utter the words quoted in the story. We take this opportunity to retract the story and apologise to Wahome for any embarrassment caused.”

If indeed Wahome did not utter the words quoted in the story, it can only mean the reporter created them. He may have been inattentive or had other motives. But neither is excusable. It is unprofessional.

Accuracy is the first tenet of ethical journalism. Are the words attributed to the source exactly what that person said? Is the reporter’s description of an incident a true representation of what transpired?

Sadly, there are more such failures in the media.

In an opinion piece headlined, “Poor quality content hurting radio stations” (Standard, February 9, p.15), media trainer William Ogonda wrote that “good quality content remains a challenge, and this is despite Kenya being home to more than 150 radio stations, both mainstream and online.”

Stations simply copy what the others are doing. Hardly any effort is made to understand audiences and create content that meets their needs, Ogonda noted. Radio journalists do little investigative reporting.

And on TV, the news menu is predictable. Follow the politicians and reproduce what they said at rallies, funerals and press conferences. Call up pundits and broadcast their opinions as the news. No examination of subjects in-depth. Truth may be twisted to suit the agendas of the high and mighty.

When former President Moi’s nephew and influential Kanu era politician Hosea Kiplagat died on February 6, a news report on KTN described his rise from prison warder to billionaire in flowery terms.

“Diligent as he was and successful in business he rose to unrivalled greatness and it did not take long before he caught President Moi’s attention, who saw him as an efficient political mobiliser,” the report said.

Apparently, KTN had no idea that for months before his death Kiplagat was battling the auctioning of his properties over unpaid loans. Other reports paint a not so rosy picture of this politician and businessman.

In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act, George Orwell said. Where are the gatekeepers to save journalism from going to the dogs?

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