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Journalism promotes science, let’s not mislead public with tales of ‘miracles’

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a miracle as, “A marvelous event not ascribable to human power or the operation of any natural force and therefore attributed to supernatural, especially divine, agency.”

In Kenya “miracle” babies are associated with Archbishop Gilbert Deya. The man of God announced that women who had difficulties conceiving became pregnant through his prayers.

In July a Nairobi court acquitted Deya of child theft charges for lack of evidence.

The case that ran for two decades, featuring Deya’s extradition from the UK in 2017, was triggered by a BBC investigation in 2004 about the preacher’s “miracle” babies claims in London.

“Women experiencing difficulties conceiving who attended the Gilbert Deya Ministries church in Peckham, south-east London, were told they could have “miracle” babies,” the Beeb reported.

“But the babies were always “delivered” in backstreet clinics in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. The prosecution said the babies were stolen from poor Kenyan families.”

Men of God like Deya are entitled to proclaim “miracles”. That’s their job. They supposedly have privileged access to the divine mind and its procedures. Journalists don’t enjoy such unique insights, so they can’t declare “miracles”.

Yet that is what the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press recently did. Citizen TV in its prime time telecast on the night of November 20 carried a story titled, “Miracle baby Blessing: Baby who was transfused in mother’s womb discharged.”

One of Kenya’s finest news anchors, Trevor Ombija, told the world that, “A baby who was in June transfused while in his mother’s womb at the Kenyatta National Hospital has been discharged one month after birth.”

Ombija’s colleague Mashrima Kapombe reported that, “Baby Blessing is an answered prayer after three miscarriages and an infant death last year.”

Is this factual reporting? On what basis do journalists declare an event as a “miracle” or “an answered prayer”?

The Daily Nation carried the story the next day under the headline, “Miracle baby transfused while still in the womb born healthy” (November 21, p.3).

The paper reported that the baby “received a blood transfusion while in his mother’s womb, marking a medical and technological milestone.”

Miracle or medical and technological milestone? It can’t be both. There are no “miracles” of science.

Ahem, you can’t ignore or minimise the absolute joy of a mother like Melodious Moraa. She has suffered. She lost several pregnancies, until the medics at KNH figured what her problem was and fixed it.

But in conveying her joy to the public, media professionalism requires that you don’t distort the facts. You don’t deny science and attribute this amazing work to a power outside the competence of the doctors at KNH. They are the true heroes of this story. Science came to the rescue of Moraa.

In a society where millions of people are obsessed with “miracles” to the point they are quite ready to starve to death at the behest of a religious charlatan or give away all their wealth to a flamboyant millionaire Mightiest Prophet, media narratives that attribute the works of science to divine intervention entrench a decidedly primitive mindset.

It is never the job of journalists to proclaim miracles. The watchdog of society can’t confer legitimacy on nebulous and often misleading ideas, however popular they might be. The entire business of a journo – we will never tire repeating – is to “write a fair, accurate and an unbiased story on matters of public interest.”

How’s describing a successful medical intervention as a “miracle” accurate reporting? How’s it fair to the medics, whose expertise and agency the headlines clearly deny? They didn’t do it. A hidden hand did. What message does this framing of the story send to the nation about how to solve personal and collective problems?

How does such journalism sit in the 21st century world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM); or advance the philosophy of practical education underpinning the new Competence Based Curriculum, namely, critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration/community service?

If the media is a mirror of society, then such journalism reflects a debilitating problem we face as a nation. We suffer from shallow thinking across all classes, intellectual laziness, over-reliance on official narratives and groupthink, zero critical reflection, taking things at face value, a disastrous lack of depth and imagination, and inability to see or pursue and live by the truth.

Every journo has a duty to pursue, acknowledge, celebrate and communicate science.

See you next week!

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