Third Eye

Why media must rise above pedestrian coverage

Friday, April 23rd, 2021 00:00 |
Media personnel at work. Photo/Courtesy

As is typical in Kenya, the main headlines for the whole week have been mainly about politics. Yet, it has been a week of important stories of greater national interest. 

The President has been away on a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where a range of agreements has been signed between the two countries.

For those in the know, economic partnership with DRC could lead to great benefits for Kenya that would dwarf the missing out on the railway deal that Tanzania signed with Uganda.

But for the Kenyan media, the visit by the President to DRC and the agreements signed is an inconsequential story relegated to optics.

It need not to be, business writers ought to bring out these agreements and play their educational and informational role by letting Kenyans know what the agreements are about and their economic importance to the country.

That is what constructive journalism, or solutions oriented reporting is about.

The country is on the throes of recruiting a Chief Justice and senior members of the nation’s judiciary. Fortunately, due to legal requirements, this has played out in public.

At least there are media houses that have spent resources in research and brought out the credentials of those in consideration for these offices. This is an important function.

But more attention over the week has been focused on two other stories. In the first, a media house carried a year long investigation on the indiscipline in the police force and the ease with which criminals can access security apparel, hand cuffs and guns.

The excitement in the media regarding this story has been palpable. Nearly every section of the media sector has hailed the story for the courage of the journalist and as an expose of police rot.

However, with the benefit of the lapse of time, it would be worthwhile examining this story and its faithfulness to principles of journalistic story telling among which includes balance.

Whatever the arguments for and against, were the police given the right of reply? Is the force entitled to one as the rules of natural justice would dictate?

Can such a story, critical as it is, find some sources that would be willing to go on record? Are there independent experts that could add value to the story?

But the trophy of the week probably goes to the coverage of the enforcement of curfew rules.

Few people have been mesmerised by a new technology compared to how Kenyans have taken to social media. The instinct of the Kenyan Twitterati is first to twit then ask questions latter.

When police mounted the 8pm roadblocks, the general public condemnation of the force was quick and sustained.

From the world of Twitter, the presidential pronouncement on the curfew rules was a mere suggestion to be made but not enforced.

There were no shortages of sources on Twitter with an opinion and a word of condemnation of the police.

But what should be the role of media on this? Report factually, yes, but also set agenda. Certainly, to cover all known sources. 

Online personalities that cannot be easily verified should have no space as alternative and by extension authoritative voices on a subject.

Kenyan media has elevated these voices of no fixed known address to authority figures. 

There has been near uniform opposition to the enforcement of these curfew hour measures. A famous columnist was roundly criticised for seemingly articulating an independent opinion.

Apparently in the world of Kenyan Twitterati independent thinking is not tolerated. 

But this was another lost opportunity for the media to guide national thinking. Yet social responsibility of the media demands more of journalists than simply to lay out facts and leave them there.

This week, Kenyan media largely majored in the minors.  — The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

More on Third Eye