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E for Effort: Let’s uphold high standards through independent, factual reporting

“Journalistic independence demands a willingness to follow the facts, even when they lead you away from what you assumed would be true. A willingness to engage at once empathetically and skeptically with a wide variety of people and perspectives. An insistence on reflecting the world as it is, not as you wish it to be. A posture of curiosity rather than conviction, of humility rather than righteousness.”

AG Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, 2024 Reuters Memorial Lecture, March 4

We waited. One week, two, three. Nothing. No media house did anything. The politicians reaped the publicity they wanted. And that story is nearly forgotten now. The truth may never be known.

An 11-member parliamentary select committee hearing an impeachment petition against Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi over the fake fertiliser scandal returned an innocent verdict. The accusations were not proved. Linturi mweupe kama pamba.

But then some members of the committee hit the headlines with claims that MPs were bribed to save Linturi. The People Daily condemned Parliament as “House for hire” (May 14).

“Claims of bribery, threats and intimidation resurfaced in Parliament yesterday as MPs cleared embattled Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi in a meticulously coordinated government strategy,” PD reported.

Seven members voted against the petition, four dissented. Busia Woman Rep Catherine Omanyo and Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo alleged bribery. They did not give a shred of evidence. Media did not challenge them.

A responsible leader who is offered a bribe declines it. But that is not all. He or she reports the attempts to the authorities and is ready to provide evidence. A Member of Parliament can use the powers and privileges of the House to expose attempted bribery. It is not enough to call reporters to regale them with sensational tales of bribery without providing an iota of evidence or pursuing the available legal avenues.

Journalists, on the other hand, have a professional duty to independently investigate allegations of bribery involving MPs and lay out the facts. It is not ethical to trumpet unsubstantiated claims. You don’t publish rumours. Mucene. Umbeya. Songi songi.

Mudslinging is common in politics. Why should journalists – and by extension the public – believe claims of bribery and intimidation made by politicians who don’t provide any evidence?

Does that qualify as independent journalism? Is that “willingness to follow the facts, even when they lead you away from what you assumed would be true?” Is that “willingness to engage at once empathetically and skeptically with a wide variety of people and perspectives?”

Or what would you say about this story? “Over 500,000 miss varsity, college slots” (Nation, May 22, p.2). “More than 500,000 students who sat the 2023 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination have not been placed in tertiary institutions, dealing a severe blow to the 100 per cent transition policy.”

Thereport said only 258,935 out of the eligible 890,654 students were placed by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS). So, all the rest are lost in the wilderness of Kenya’s supposedly wasteful education system, right?

Well, no, this is inaccurate and alarmist reporting. Not all students seek post-secondary education through KCCUPS. Those who take other routes haven’t “missed slots”, or have they?

Para 3: “The government does not have a centralised database to track post-secondary education transition, making it difficult to account for the 631,719 learners not captured by KCCUPS.”This is correct.Ahem, if there is no centralised database to track post-KCSE education, how do you report that students have missed university and college opportunities?

Here are five facts to consider. One, Kenya has many private colleges and universities that admit thousands of students each year. KCCUPS places students in public institutions only.

Two, some students opt for studies outside the country. KCCUPS doesn’t place them there. Three, others join the army, police, NYS, and other state institutions that admit directly and not through KCCUPS.

Four, there are thousands of KCSE school leavers who don’t apply to any college through KCCUPS immediately they complete secondary education but do so after a few years out. Five, many others pursue other paths like formal or self-employment.

Para 4: “Some students opt to apply directly to private universities or colleges while others follow non-academic routes.” Correct.

Para 5: “The low placement numbers point to wastage in the country’s education system.” Not correct.

Facts, mtu wangu. Anyone can record what was said and reproduce that as “news”. But a journo is trained and mandated by law to verify information and satisfy himself or herself that what’s published is accurate and reliable.

The New York Times publisher AG Sulzberger speaks of “An insistence on reflecting the world as it is, not as you wish it to be. A posture of curiosity rather than conviction, of humility rather than righteousness.”

That means journalism is about truth-seeking and truth-telling. E for Effort.

See you next week!

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