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Senator Chute didn’t speak on Sh2bn Badasa dam scandal, why?

Journalists are hammered all the time. Comes with the territory. You must grow a thick skin. The insults spewed by local power men – by no means excusing them – sometimes pale into sheer tantrums compared to the well-aimed hard tackles recorded elsewhere.

For example, Spiro Agnew, vice president to the 37th US president Richard Nixon, is reported to have dismissed journalists as mere “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “an effete corps of impudent snobs.”

Reads like English taught at “group of schools”.

The heart of such withering criticism is often a perception of lack of fairness in the news. Accuracy goes with fairness. You got the facts right, but is the packaging of the story fair to everyone affected by it?

Do the voices on opposite sides get equal treatment? If the accusers give you all details of an alleged scandal, are you willing to report the complete details of the rebuttal?

The Daily Nation carried a riveting exposé about a dam scandal in Marsabit. “Nil to show for Badasa Dam billions over a decade later,” the headline stated (August 8, p.13). The dam was one of the key water projects mooted under President Kibaki’s Vision 2030 for Kenya’s largest county.

“The project has since 2008 seen taxpayers fork out nearly Sh2 billion to Midroc Water Drilling Company – owned by Marsabit Senator Mohammed Chute – for nothing more than an expensive trench that, aside from being an eyesore, is an inconvenience to residents and wildlife inside Marsabit Forest,” Nation’s Brian Wasuna reported.

The story covering a full page detailed how, after doing nothing on site, Chute’s firm Midroc “successfully sued National Water Conservation and Pipeline Corporation (NWCPC), the project owner, seeking Sh264 million for materials it delivered to the dam site.”

Midroc argued in court papers that it had spent Sh988.4 million on works. This sum and other costs grew to Sh2 billion.

“Midroc should have handed over a complete dam to the government on November 9, 2011. NWCPC felt that Midroc was moving at a snail’s pace. Between March 10, 2010 and October 31, 2011, the NWCPC and Runji Partners – an engineering consultant hired to audit the construction process – wrote several letters to Midroc raising concerns about the sluggish works,” the story stated.

“A site progress report submitted by Runji Partners on January 11, 2011, and which the Nation investigations found at the abandoned site, shows that 11 months before the projected completion date, Midroc had only done just 36.9 per cent of the work.”

Swali: What’s Midroc’s side of the story about this project? The company is reportedly owned by Marsabit Senator Mohammed Chute. What’s his response to claims his firm pocked taxpayers’ billions and “walked out on Badasa, leaving rickety equipment at the site?

Not a word.

Neither Midroc nor its reported owner Chute were interviewed for this story. The Nation did not say it attempted to reach them but failed.

Is this fair?

“A person subject to this Act shall write a fair, accurate and an unbiased story on matters of public interest,” states the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya.

“All sides of the story shall be reported, wherever possible.”

Moreover, “Comments shall be sought from anyone who is mentioned in an unfavourable context and evidence of such attempts to seek the comments shall be kept.”

This is a one-sided story.

Fairness is a core tenet of ethical journalism. The Code envisages fewer epithets hurled at scribes if everyone mentioned in unfavourable context is given a chance to respond. Most people in the news wouldn’t burn the midnight oil looking for the choicest insults for journalists if they were treated fairly.

Be as fair as a conscientious judge or bishop.

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