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‘Picky pinky ponky’ journalism on collapsed building in Kiambu

By Dex Mumo

The end of September saw another dramatic media scenario like the ballot-tallying period in August, when each political side tuned to a favourite TV station where their fifth was winning. If I’m not wrong, this treatment of stories has been here with us for some time. But maybe we haven’t been keen.

The story about the collapse of a building in Kirigiti in Kiambu County did not miss the media attention on Monday, September 26, 2022. Nevertheless, the treatment of the story is a case study of ‘picky pinky ponky’ journalism—the journalism of pata potea (trial and error).

Each media house had a different account. If you wanted to hear about the many-storied building collapsing, the account of K24 was for you. Their headline was, “A seven-storied building collapsed on Monday in Kirigiti village in Kiambu County.” If you believe in a six-storied building, then KBC reported that the Kirigiti collapsed building was a six-storied one. However, Citizen TV and NTV reported that a five-storied building collapsed, for those who love pentagons.

More interesting was the KTN News account where in its headline, the Kirigiti building was five-storied, but in its report, it was a six-storied building. Thus the KTN headline was grossly misleading—a clear indication that some journalists relied on desktop research and to be honest with them, hearsay.

As if that was not enough, the different media accounts had dissimilar number of casualties. The Star reported that, “Two dead, several injured as six-storied building collapse in Kinoo”. KTN News, in its story, confirmed that three people died in the accident. So, in the end, how many people died? Answer depended on which media account one consumed.

While the number of casualties can be excused, the Kirigiti building cannot have different descriptions. So, was the building five, six or seven storied? Does it matter anyway? Which story is correct, and which one is wrong?

Such a scenario raises many questions about the sources used to build different accounts of the Kirigiti collapsed building story. How many-storied buildings collapsed on that day? A hard news story like this one, whose impact and consequences are high, should be accurately presented.

Our reporters should treat stories with accuracy and check facts to preserve the credibility of our journalism. The fact that different media houses all cover stories on matters of public interest should make reporters more careful. This is because such shared stories are peer reviewed; thus, it is easier to see the disparities.

So, if the disparities are so glaring, how do we trust media-specific stories? Numbers and facts matter in journalism. If all the media houses are bound to give different information concerning one story, then where should citizens look for truthful and accurate information? This could be the reason the society is turning to social media for information; a trend that threatens to bottleneck the sustainability of the mainstream media.

To conclude, the journalistic Code of Conduct calls for accuracy, which bears credibility. It is a principle that a journalist should take seriously when breaking the news. Inaccurate reporting erodes citizens’ trust in journalism as a professional undertaking.

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