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Hits and misses covering Ruto’s US state visit

How was Kenya’s media coverage of President William Ruto’s recent historic state visit to the United States? Here is the score on some stories:

  • Chams Media: The wrap

Veteran TV reporter Alex Chamwada’s Chams Media, best known for its weekly documentary, “Daring Abroad,” perhaps did the best wrap up of the President’s four-day state visit to the USA.

In one episode, Chams Media gave its audience vivid pictures of President Ruto’s grand arrival on May 20 in Atlanta, Georgia, followed the President through all important stops in Georgia and Washington D.C., until departure at St Andrew’s Joint Air Force Base in Maryland.

Chams Media posted this suitably narrated summary on YouTube, titled, “The Daring President: Ruto’s State Visit to the USA & what it means for Kenya”.

This was a hit.

  • The Standard: In the room

The most vivid storytelling in print was perhaps Peter Wakaba’s first-person account of the press at the White House and the Pentagon, published June 3 by The Standard.

Titled, “White House rituals: Ruto’s reception that included a picture at the Resolute Desk”, the story by Wakaba, who did not pretend to hide his awe at every stop in the U.S. capital, took the reader behind the scenes with anecdotes you could touch, smell and hear.

You could see “the walk” by US President Joe Biden and his guest along the White House’s much fabled west Colonnade to the Oval Office.

You could hear the excited screams of awed reporters, hurdled in a bus, “Hey, there’s Barack Obama,” when the 44th President was spotted during his swift in and out at the state dinner. You could savour the “chilled green tomato soup.”

This was a hit.

  • Citizen Digital: Ambiguous Coca-Cola deal

On the second day of the visit, May 22, Citizen Digital reported that Kenya had signed a substantial deal with Coca-Cola at the giant conglomerate’s Atlanta headquarters. Only, they forgot to say what deal it was.

Titled, “Kenya Inks Ksh.22.8B Deal With Coca-Cola In Five-Year Investment Plan”, the story by Moses Kinyanjui only spoke vaguely of an “expansion plan with Coca-Cola [that] will play a vital role in creating job opportunities and growing Kenya’s economy.” No specifics.

This was a miss.

  • The Standard: Getting Coca Cola deal right

The next day, May 23, the Standard saved the day on the Coca Cola deal. In a general story titled, “President Ruto in historic meeting with US President Biden”, the paper clarified the deal in one sentence:

“During his tour of the Coca-Cola Company headquarters, it was announced that the manufacturer would invest Sh23 billion ($175 million) over the next five years to expand operations in Kenya.”

Now that’s clarity. This was a hit.

  • People Daily: Unverified claim

After President Ruto was back home and the dust had settled on his US visit, the People Daily embellished a story wrongly painted as a win for America.

Titled, “‘US reaping from Ruto’s White House dinner’- Saboti MP reacts as Kenya set to join fight against Houthi rebels”, the May 29 story by Mustafa Juma said that the United States had already “started reaping” from Ruto’s visit.

What was America reaping? That Kenya was already “officially at war with the Americans’ enemies”, according to a social media post by Saboti MP Caleb Amisi.

Well, it doesn’t matter if you put the heading of such a story within quotation marks. It doesn’t matter even if in the story you generously quote the source. Media has no obligation to parrot unverified claims.

This was a miss.

  • Daily Nation: Lifted third party material

Finally, the Nation wrote a dubious “explainer” about what has widely been acknowledged as Kenya’s most historic win from the visit: the non-NATO Ally designation.

Titled, “Explainer: Privileges Kenya will enjoy as a Major Non-Nato Ally” the May 25 story by Aggrey Mutambo correctly said that this designation spells for Kenya broader defence and security support by the United States.

Then, after five paragraphs, the story, citing the America’s State Department, provided seven bullets listing what Kenya would enjoy.

Problem is, those bullets were a near verbatim lift from a January 20, 2021 State Department publication titled, “Major Non-NATO Ally Status”. That is frowned upon in the news reporting business. Either quote, using quotation marks, or paraphrase and attribute properly.

This was a miss.

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