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PD gaffe is a call for rigorous quality control in newsroom processes

It’s likely some of the top editors at People Daily struggled with the temptation to switch off their phones, hurl the damn gadgets away Atwoli-style and disappear from town on Tuesday morning, August 31. The phones could not stop ringing.

The paper’s second story that day was headlined, “Why Raila faces 2022 steep climb”. Mediamax had discovered that the ODM leader was running out of time to reinvent himself after the central region, on which he had banked his candidacy, was proving a hard nut to crack.

PD dedicated its entire Page 3 to the story, complete with a great photo of Baba resplendent in a presidential blue suit, white shirt, red tie, head held high, hands clasped in a gesture of goodwill, right leg resting on the left while seated in a red chair against the backdrop of the national flag.

“His Earthquakeness” is presidential material, why lie. He is a sharp dresser. His wardrobe manager ought to be awarded national honours at a ceremony at Uhuru Park. Appearance is a serious matter in politics – and life in general. Yet a certain State House aspirant doesn’t care much how he looks in public. His oversize, wrinkled mitumba jackets and hanging trousers give him the appearance of a nyama choma-chomping, Tusker-guzzling landlord, the owner of condemned red-brick flats built on grabbed school land in Mbale town, Vihiga County.

So, “The Owner of The Earth” posed quite like The Fifth on the PD page. A graphic on his left summed up his five-time quest for the coveted top job in four bullet-points. The sting was in the tail. The fourth bullet stated matter-of-factly that, “He made another attempt at the presidency in August 2017 against Uhuru Kenyatta and Uhuru Kenyatta stole votes”.

Say what! Oh my!

The first pages of a newspaper are done last just before going to press. It is the most hectic time in the newsroom. Everyone is bustling to beat the deadline. It’s perfectly understandable that most errors slip through the cracks at this time. Many scribes never really sleep like a baby – they toss and turn over what might be awaiting them in their paper tomorrow morning.

And there it stood in all its malevolent ugliness: a completely unsupported claim that Uhuru “stole” Raila’s victory in the last election. How did that humongous error escape the hawk eyes of the graphic designer, editors and subs? Shock. Anger. Panic. Phone calls.

“In yesterday’s edition of People Daily, we published content suggesting that the 2017 elections were rigged,” the paper said in a grovelling apology the next day, September 1. “This was a result of production oversight, which saw unverified content published. We take this early opportunity to apologise to President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga for the embarrassment the text may have caused them”.

There is absolutely no journalist who can publish such a claim. Where is the evidence? How such a glaring “production oversight” occurred is a matter entirely for PD editors to determine. But journalism is a human job. Errors occur. They point to the need for rigorous quality control in newsroom processes. Every time.

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