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Ruto talks to Al Jazeera: Dear journalists, interviews need not be combative

President Ruto’s interview with Al Jazeera aired on September 24, 2022, was watched live by millions of people across the world, including Kenyans. As we write this, the interview uploaded on Al Jazeera English YouTube page has been watched by more than 100,000 people in 24 hours.

President Ruto has been praised for being articulate, having clarity of thought and appears well informed on regional and international geopolitics following this interview. This begs the question, what is it about this interview that allowed the President to be this articulate? We think it’s all about good journalism.

According to the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) there is nothing African, Asian, American, or European about good journalism. While the contexts within which it is practiced may be different, and may indeed inform the final product, good journalism shares many characteristics that have universal appeal.

ACME proceeds to point out what constitutes good journalism and we’ve listed some of them here to help us discuss where our journalists go wrong and fail to show excellence.

  • Good journalism does not merely inform, it provides information that has meaning for people’s lives.
  • It offers context and perspective.
  • It explains issues and helps to educate and enlighten audiences.
  • It provides a civic forum that both informs and engages the public.
  • It drives public debate on the issues of the day, including rarely discussed subjects that affect people’s lives.
  • It asks the right questions and provides a forum through which they can be answered.
  • It is independent (from vested interests, be they political or commercial).

In this Al Jazeera interview, the journalist interviewing President Ruto is keen to ensure the interview yields information that has meaning to people’s lives. He asks the President about Kenya’s involvement in the conflicts in Somalia and DRC and gets him to respond from a position that allows Kenyans to find meaning in these wars.

He also allows the President an opportunity to give context and offer his perspective on why stable and peaceful Somalia and DRC are important to Kenya. The audience therefore is able not only to appreciate the complexity of the security situation in the region but also appreciates the need for regional collaboration – this is the sort of education interviews should offer the audience and drive public debate.

Overall, the journalist appears independent in the sense that he does not shy away from asking difficult and uncomfortable questions and he keeps off sideshows that would make the interview combative and tense (which makes for a good show but offers the audience nothing).

This is something most of our journalists, especially very senior ones, haven’t grasped. We’ve seen a number of interviews the President has had with top local journalists, where the entire show is extremely combative with repetitive questions around tribalism and nepotism that add little value for the audience at home.

The tone the Al Jazeera journalist sets is relaxed, so that the subject feels at home and not like he’s in a fighting arena. The goal of the journalist is to dig for information, not fight or appear to fight the interviewee.

Going forward, we hope journalists will take their time to research about the person they want to interview, but more importantly, take time to consider what they want their audience to get from the interviewee and limit themselves to those questions that will provide value rather than unnecessary sideshows. In the age of information, the journalist must not waste time with things the audience already knows – focus now, increasingly, is in ensuring the time the audience spends watching the interview is worthwhile.

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