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Poor gatekeeping: News editors asleep as audiences served half-baked stories

You know the famous free advice to journalists? We won’t restate the colourful original but will rephrase in a language suitable for a family publication. If one person says it is raining out there and the other says it is not, your job as a journalist is not to report both views in pointless objectivity and balance. You look outside and see the situation for yourself.

But fixated on official tales (authority), journalism is often debased. All that is important is “he said” – not the facts that a scribe can independently observe as an expert in public affairs, or simply as a thinking human being.

“Government spokesman denies NCPB claims that food reserves are empty,” the headline of a story in The Standard stated on October 27, p.9. “The government has refuted the claim by the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) managing director Joseph Kimote that the national grain reserves were empty,” the report said.

The NCPB is a government agency mandated to manage granaries. Between its boss and the Government Spokesperson, who would be in a better position to know the status of the country’s grain reserves?

“Government Spokesperson Colonel (rtd) Cyrus Oguna yesterday said there was enough food and there was no course [cause!] for alarm,” The Standard reported.

So, what are the readers supposed to believe? We need clarity. Kimote and Oguna’s contradictory claims can’t be both true. One was lying. It can’t be raining and not raining at the same time.

“Last week, NCPB told the National Assembly Agriculture Committee that the national reserves were depleted,” the story said. The agency asked for Sh10.4 billion to buy 2.8 million bags of maize, 50,000 bags of beans, 30,000 bags of green grams and 100,000 bags of rice. Did the country’s granaries keeper lie to Parliament?

This is a serious issue. President Uhuru Kenyatta has declared the drought ravaging parts of the country a national disaster. At least 2.1 million citizens in 23 counties need food aid, Oguna said.

“Right now I can assure you we have sufficient food to deal with the situation we are facing,” he said in Mogotio, Baringo County. What is the true situation? Was Oguna lying to the public?

The best thing for The Standard would have been to try to independently establish the truth. Go to the NCPB stores and take a look. Talk to insiders. Look for granaries boss Kimote and ask him to show you the empty stores he told the Agriculture Committee about. Or Oguna to show you the bursting granaries.

But who wants to do the sweaty work of muckraking? On October 20, The Star ran a major story that Jubilee rebels in Mt Kenya had been replaced in renewed efforts by Uhuru Kenyatta’s party to consolidate his backyard.

“Jubilee Party’s reorganisation in Central Kenya has gained momentum with the replacement of grassroots officials who left for other outfits,” the story said.

The question that immediately jumps to the reader’s mind is: Who are those rebels and who replaced them? But nowhere in the 21 paragraphs did the story answer these basic questions.

Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu and National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya who were quoted gave no names. There was no indication The Star asked for names or contacted Jubilee headquarters to ascertain any changes in Mt Kenya party leadership. Journalism gani hii?

Five days later, the same paper ran a story titled, “Day schools win big in construction of 10,000 classes”. President Kenyatta announced on Mashujaa Day Sh8.1 billion for expansion of secondary schools in preparation for the double intake of 2.5 million students to Form 1 in 2023.

“Day schools will be the biggest beneficiaries in the expansion of secondary schools to accommodate the expected surge in population when the Competency-Based Curriculum hits junior high school,” the story said.

What number will they be allocated out of the 10,000 planned classes? What are the details of the expansion plan? Anyone from the Ministry of Education? Nothing.

The Star has established that the government seeks to concentrate on stepping up the infrastructure in day schools to accommodate the students”. This appears to be the entire basis of the story. Who gave this information? What’s the plan?

This is lazy. Churnalism. Dereliction of duty. Giving the profession a bad name. What are news editors for? Where is quality control?

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