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Radio presenters are breaching ethics by jumping into advertising

By Kodi Barth

Radio stations nowadays run adverts in two ways. One, a standard, professional-cut commercial clip is cued and played on air. Two, a show presenter jumps in to promote a product. The latter is a breach of ethics.

Hear Citizen Radio presenter Melody Sinzore dramatically promote a fintech app on a mid-morning show on October 19:

“Si vizuri mtu akianza kukutangaza [laughs at own joke], unless ni pesa nyingi na umekataa kulipa, kama elfu saba hivi.”

Prolonged, outright laughter. She catches her breath, then exclaims:

“Jamani! Si vizuri! Kwa hivyo unataka kukopa hela kimya kimya, chini ya maji, mtu asijue kwamba umekopa. Maana wakijua umekopa, mtu anaanza kukuangalia kile, ‘Ugrh! Anaanza kujifanya hapa, kumbe hela ako nazo ni pesa za kukopa! Jamani!’ Pata hela zako kimya kimya kule kwa Zenka. Bonyeza *841#.”

There, if you wanted to borrow money in private, Zenka, the fintech app, would be your solution. But the presenter was just getting started.

“Huwezi kukopa pesa halafu una hadi siku 60 za kulipia […]. Nimekuambia ikifika […]  na uangalie mwenyewe biashara haijaanza kulipa, hela haujapata za kulipa, unaongezewa muda wako wa malipo. Unaongezewa siku saba, unaongezewa siku 14, hata siku 30. Imagine!”

Then, a little English, in case you weren’t getting it:“Kama your due date ilikuwa kesho tarehe 20 October, na mwenyewe unaangalia, unaona, ah, bado sijakuwa sawa, wanakuongezea muda. Zenka can do that!

Then, the kicker:“Halafu, sikia sasa, hapa nitaenda mchongo. Sikiliza. Kuja karibu. Do you know uki-refer watu waweze ku-download hiyo app, waanze kutumia, imagine unapata 10 bob, kwa kila mmoja ume refer!

 Then, to bring it home, a personal example: “[Mimi] Melody Sinzore, niwaongeleshe watu 17 hapa Royal Media… Imagine ninapata 10 bob! Ten bob for each person nime-refer! Ten bob for being a good ambassador! Halafu, uki-refer mtu a-download app, akope pesa, azilipe on time, unapata 200 bob. Eheeeee! Unangojea nini? Download app yako ya Zenka, uanze kutengeneza pesa — *841#.”

What is wrong with this picture? This is the art of persuasion at its best. Problem is, it’s not a professional-cut clip in which the advertiser takes full responsibility for content aired. It’s the presenter persuading you from the heart to use a specific product.

And for that, the product owner pays a premium to the radio station. Royal Media is not the only culprit. Most (if not all) Kenyan radios now do this.

On the same October 19, Ruth Nyajimo at Royal Media’s Radio Ramogi went on a limb for a product, practically swearing heaven and earth that onion seeds branded “Africa Red F1” by a company called Syngenta, were the best thing since Adam.

In the next minute she was swearing to watermelon seeds, branded “Jubilee Watermelon”, still by Syngenta.

The next day, a radio host from the same station could sell their grandmother if you could buy vegetable seeds from a different vendor.

It’s a circus!

Look, an audience tunes into a particular station or faithfully follows a presenter because they develop trust with the radio brand, or the presenter. Audiences understand that adverts are commercial, but that the presenter speaks directly to them. That the presenter is not about selling them stuff.

Well, now audiences may not know the moment their favourite presenter stopped broadcasting and begun selling them stuff. And that is the moment the line is crossed. For radios to exploit the trust relationship with their audience for monetary gain is worth discussing under ethics.

The ethical line is breached when a radio station starts to swear by a product for money. That instant, responsibility for aired content is no longer with the product owner. The responsibility is transferred to the radio station.

What’s more, the radio is not being transparent with the audience that the “mentions” by presenters are, in fact, commercial advertising. No, the radio crossed that line a while back. The instant “mentions” by presenter start, it’s the station brand at stake. The presenter is essentially swearing by the name of their station that a product is good, and the audience should buy it.

Radios are reducing presenters into cheap salesmen — and in the case of the ongoing betting craze, possibly fraudsters, because radios are not being completely transparent with their audience that the audience is throwing the dice with their money.

Advertising by presenters is a dangerous line.

Kodi Barth is adjunct lecturer of journalism at United States International University-Africa (USIU)

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