Getting it wrong repeatedly robs media of credibility

Friday, June 19th, 2020 00:00 |
Media personnel at work. Photo/Courtesy

One of the important relationships that media has with its public is that of trust.

Over half a century ago, a media scholar  said one of the functions of the media is surveillance. 

This is premised on the assumption that the public space is expansive and an individual cannot command a full grasp of it all on their own. They need assistance.

This is where media come in. The media scan the social space on behalf of the public, assessing and weighing the importance of events to the individual and packages that content in newspapers or news bulletins at the end of the day.

There are other subtle assumptions that go with it. One that the media, knowing who their publics are, assess and evaluate what is important for that public and leave out events that are of little interest.

But secondly, that the media will get these facts correctly. It is for this reason that facts are sacred for journalists.

Care must be exercised so that 200 bags of maize do not turn out to be 2,000 bags, that media do not kill an individual prematurely, and generally, that facts are stated as they are.

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been cases in some of the Kenyan media of stories that are splashed with fanfare only to turn out to be less rosy or simply false.

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, for example, is a relatively busy man and it is possible that keeping tabs with his diary can be daunting. But that is no reason for a media house to get wrong his activities.

Kenya has put up a spirited fight for a seat at the United Nations Security Council.

That honour does not come easy and involves a determined fight, convincing other states that our victory will serve their interest and that, among other things, Kenya will return the favour and do some trade offs.

Victory after a bruising campaign does not come from a simple majority win, but involves winning the confidence of at least two thirds of the members.

Knowing these details is not the business of the individual sitting at home but for the media house that has assigned itself the task of informing the person at home accordingly.

When the media get it wrong time and again, it begs the questions as to why bestow upon such untrustworthy sources of information the honour of surveying the environment on your behalf.

Later we ask ourselves why media is losing credibility, why the demand for their services are on the decline and why some people think they could be used for packaging meat. But the answer would not be too difficult to find.

Granted, the media will get it wrong occasionally since searching for the truth can be akin to searching for a needle in a hay sack. The media must, however, continue searching.

When the media genuinely get it wrong and an appropriate apology is rendered, the public will understand. The challenge is when getting it wrong becomes a routine.

There are those who have declared war against the media because they do not expect the searchlights to focus on them. They, therefore, discredit the press as a strategy to look good.

But on average, the public is capable of knowing when such is the case and thus separate empty rhetoric from substance. 

We do not throw away a good book, or discard a quotable quote, but cut the piece and store it for reference and later use. Restoring the dignity of the press involves fidelity to the facts.  

The recent spate of stories that are not verified erode that credibility and contribute to the decline of the public trust in the media.

Given the important space that the media occupy in the structure of our society, such decline rob society of a critical cog in its superstructure. — The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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