BWIRE: Media capture; internal reflection only way out

BWIRE: Media capture; internal reflection only way out

Outside the global challenges that are currently facing the media, journalists in Kenya are doing well in terms of quality and timely content to the audiences, but more can be done.

The current business operating environment, including demands for accountability, quality content, respect for the rule of law and dwindling revenue streams requires that the media industry re invents news ways of operating; both in terms of new business models and enhanced professionalism and self-regulation.

Tough times require tough measures, and the media industry should be reminded that to survive, they must work on increasing public trust an spur audience confidence, through quality content with focus on public interest issues, which audiences identify with.

And this is achievable because others elsewhere are doing it; just interact with colleagues from countries such as Sweden and Denmark and you see the possibilities.

People in the profession must open up to the reality that media is under capture by dark forces, an internal reflection is urgently needed and there is an opportunity for redemption. But this cannot happen if journalists continue living in denial. The capture is from investors/owners, advertisers (public and private), commercial (dwindling revenue streams) and technological including fake news and influence of citizen information sources and lack of professionalism.

Media in Kenya is not a rogue industry and journalists are guided by a professional code of conduct thus Kenyans should not seem helpless when offended by the media or journalists should feel free to complain about mistreatment of their stories by their editors or sub editors.

The profession has enough mechanisms for self-regulation, both as an industry or at personal level. Indeed, the best mechanism globally to raise complaints against the media, in fact media related breaches are civil in nature are best handled outside the judicial/court system.

Section 23 of the Media Act 2013 establishes the Complaints Commission at the Media Council of Kenya, which is mandated to, amongst other things, regulate the ethical and professional standards of the Mass Media and to arbitrate disputes between (a) Public and the media ( b) Government and media (c) Intramedia disputes.

The Commission bases its decisions on compliance with the code of conduct of practice of journalism in Kenya; contained in the second schedule of the Media Act 2013. The Commission redress decisions are meant to act as deterrence against wanton behaviour by the media. The Commission has listened and made rulings in a number of media related cases that should inspire people to use it in solving media related disputes, and the industry must respect the decisions made as a way of strengthening self- regulation of the industry.

Mr Peter Gachuhi, complained about an article titled “Want Kenya to be landlocked? Just do away with kadhi courts” saying it was “misleading, inaccurate, inflammatory, biased, promotes ethnic animosity and promotes a violent reaction towards those asking for a NO vote at the referendum especially the Christians”. The Commission established that the media had breached of the Media Act that requires the media to inform the public on issues of public interest and importance in a fair, accurate and unbiased manner. It also breached clause on covering ethnic, religious and sectarian conflict.

Mr L. Kamweti, complained about two articles, headlined “Fury at NBK Management’s Plot to Strip Preferential Shareholders of Equal Rights”, published in the Daily Nation and “Treasury foils NBK plot to Strip its Shares of Dividend Rights”, and published in The East African. He contended that they were false, adverse and defamatory to him as a professional. The Commission found that the complainant had failed to prove that the story was inaccurate, biased or unfair, and was in fact a fair comment on a matter of public interest. For these reasons the declined to grant the orders the complainant sought. However the media was found to be in breach of the Code of Conduct that is, failing to report both sides of the story and failing to obtain comments from the Complainant and failing to keep and maintain high professional and ethical standards.

In the Ayub Sharif against the Nation Media Group and Seven Others, the petitioner complained about three articles” A day with Dr.Cure-All”, “Where Belief in Witchcraft refuses to die and “Why we continue to fall for cheap con games” by the Nation on various dates saying they were false had maliciously and erroneously branded him a witchdoctor thereby defaming him and placing his life in danger.

The Commission held that, weaving together of the several Articles published days and in some cases months apart without any specific reference to each other is simply too remote to have been possible for a fair-minded and reasonable reader to consider them related and referring to the Complainant. The Commission declined to grant the prayers sought for by the Complainant.

In the Aids Law Project (ALP) complain against the Nation Media Group, the petitioner complained about an article, headlined “Thou Shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind”, and published by the Nation saying the article was inaccurate, unfair, and biased and in breach of Articles accuracy and fairness hate speech of the Code against the homosexuals in Kenya.

The Commission established that the said article was a satirical in nature and was not inaccurate and unfair and neither did it amount to hate speech against the homosexual community in Kenya.

In the Esther Passaris versus the Weekly Citizen, where the petitioner complained that two articles headlined “Hard times for Advertising Diva Passaris” and “Passaris Under Siege” respectively published in the Weekly Citizen on various dates were inaccurate, obscene, and sexist in breach of articles: Accuracy and Fairness, Obscenity, Taste and Tone in Reporting) and Sex Discrimination of the Code of Conduct for the Practice Of Journalism) hereinafter the “Code”. The Commission established that the weekly Citizen had violated the following articles of the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism, on accuracy and fairness, Accountability, publishing obscene and offensive photos, and on privacy.

The Aids Law Project complained to the Media Council of Kenya about a broadcast aired on 21st October 2010, by the respondents through their Radio show on Classic 105 called Busted and hosted by Ciku Muiruri, where she impersonated the wife of a cheating spouse who was allegedly the boss of the lady he was having an extra marital affair with and while role playing the part of the wife of a cheating spouse, disclosed allegedly that the cheating spouse was HIV positive. The Commission declined to grant any of the orders prayed for by the complaint but established that the respondents had violated articles on misrepresentation, recording interviews and telephone conversations and privacy.

Amb. Francis Muthaura complained to the Media Council of Kenya, that an article titled “Kenya plot to oust the ICC” published by the Standard Group that alleged that the complainant was part of think tank constituted by the Government of Kenya to find means of withdrawing from the ICC, was inaccurate misleading and false, in breach of article Accuracy and Fairness.  The article further suggested that there was an “informal secretariat” which was to sit at the Office of the President to act as a “think tank” for the said process. The Commission established that the alleged think tank did not exist and the story was false, inaccurate and misleading. The respondents were ordered to apologize to the complainant and remove the offending article from their website.

Mr Miguna Miguna complained to the Council that story titled “Miguna loses it again” published in the Nairobi law Monthly of October 2010 was misleading, inaccurate and biased in breach of Article 1(Accuracy and Fairness), of the Code. The Complainant averred that the offending article relied on rumours, innuendos, and maliciously made false claims. He wanted an apology and correction. In its judgment the Commission held that the respondents had published an article that fell short of accuracy and fairness. The respondents also failed to report both sides of the story and failed to obtain comments from the Complainant in violation of the Code of Conduct. The respondents had also failed to promptly correct the inaccurate, misleading and or distorted story about the Complainant in contravention the article that requires that the editor –in-chief, of the publication assumes responsibility for all content.

The Writer works at the Media Council of Kenya as the Programmes Manager and a Journalists safety Trainer.


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