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Relief for who? Why we should avoid gladiatorial journalism

The doctors’ strike has paralysed the health sector and only seems to be getting worse. This is not the first time the country is facing such a crisis, meaning the public is not entirely clueless. But that does not mean we suspend good journalism.

On April 11 a news article appearing in the People Daily with the headline, “Relief as hospital hires foreign medics“, raises a critical question: who exactly is experiencing relief?

It should be common knowledge that strikes represent two parties: The government and the striking workers. Yet, the article focuses solely on the statement by Prof Olive Mugenda, chairperson of the board of Kenyatta University Teaching Research and Referral Hospital. No quote from any of the striking medical workers.

Which begs the question, who was relieved as the title suggests? Patients? The government? But are they? The article revealed that the hospital hired five doctors: three from Ethiopia and one each from Tanzania and Malawi. It is highly unlikely that Kenyans unable to access health services because of the ongoing strike will find solace in the hiring of five foreign doctors as the article appears to suggest.

And if we didn’t know better, we’d have concluded that the journalists were deliberately misleading the public. “Relief” implies a resolution to the crisis, while the reality is a stopgap measure that doesn’t address the core issues driving the strike.

This shallow reporting, unfortunately, isn’t unique to covering strikes in Kenya.  The “he-said, she-said” approach dominates news coverage, leaving the public uninformed about the core issues surrounding the disagreement in a strike, for instance.

Kenyans deserve better – not gladiatorial journalism. Gladiatorial journalism (a term we’ve coined) reduces complex issues, be it in politics or strikes like this one, to a bare-knuckled brawl where only one side emerges victorious. At least this is how those who quote both sides of the story make it look like – an entertainment march.

If you randomly go through newspapers since the strike began, you will not find many journalists giving context and if they do it once they wouldn’t do the same in subsequent pieces. It is as though they assume that they have the same readership every day and if the context was given in yesterday’s article, today’s can continue from where the other left.

They assume readers possess a complete understanding of the situation and that creates an information gap, hindering public awareness and informed opinion.

Journalism shouldn’t simply parrot official pronouncements but examine factors contributing to the impasse, explore alternative solutions, so that the audience can find value in the reporting beyond what the chairperson of the board of the university hospital said.

The Kenyan public deserves in-depth reporting. Let’s avoid lazy journalism that is based entirely on a press release.

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