What you need to know:
- The Nation should have reported what the President said and let the readers decide whether he avoided key issues, he persuasively argued.
- Studies show bribery in journalism is widespread.
The reporter is on the take.” This is the accusation I hear most often from people complaining about the way NMG has reported certain stories. It’s made without any proof and repeated like a mantra.
Examples: Last Friday, somebody called to complain about the way the Daily Nation reported President Kenyatta’s State of the Nation address, in which the Head of State compared himself to the biblical Moses. The story was carried in the inside pages, but a teaser on the front page encouraging readers to read the story said the speech “avoided key issues facing the country”.
The caller said that was an opinion. The Nation should have reported what the President said and let the readers decide whether he avoided key issues, he persuasively argued.
My explanation that there is a legitimate genre of journalism called interpretive (or interpretative) journalism, in which journalists go beyond the basic facts of an event to provide meaning, importance or effect of the news, did not impress him. The writer, he concluded, was on the take.
Regurgitating urban myth
Last month, another complainant, protesting that the Nation had falsely reported that he had defected to Deputy President William Ruto’s political camp, said the reporter must have been “bought’ (bribed). How else could he have published such misleading information, he wondered.
In most such cases, the complainants are not deliberately lying; they are just regurgitating the urban myth that when a journalist reports someone in a negative light, he must be doing it because he has been given money by the subject’s detractors.
However, there some who deliberately lie to put a journalist in trouble.
Paul Waweru, NMG’s long-serving photojournalist, who specialises in court reporting, provides probably the most classic illustration of such cases.
In an interview with Roy Gachuhi (“My decades-long romance with the camera” — Daily Nation, August 14, 2015), he narrates: “All sorts of people come to courtrooms. I have sometimes run into people who tell me, ‘Here, take this (money), and please don’t use my picture in the newspaper.’ When I refuse, they say to me, ‘You must, or else I will report you to the person who sent you here (the editor). I know him. I will tell him that you were demanding a bribe from me. I will make sure you are fired.’”
I’m not saying there is no bribery in journalism. Goodness knows, I’ve written in these columns and elsewhere on the prevalence of “brown envelope journalism”. In one of the articles published here, “Nation values integrity and won’t allow ‘brown envelope’ journalism” (Daily Nation, March 3, 2016), I reported traffic police officers in Molo complaining that a Nation cameraman had approached them demanding a bribe not to publish a story, saying, he had taken their pictures while they were taking bribes from motorists. He wanted money “to share with his editor in Nairobi” so as to stop the story, they claimed.
In another story, “Politicians are mostly to blame for ‘brown envelope’ syndrome”(Daily Nation, October 3, 2019), a trader narrated how a journalist was bribed by her business rivals to write negative stories about her.
Studies show bribery in journalism is widespread. In a national survey conducted in 2012–2013 (“Do They Preach Water But Drink Wine? Examining ‘The Corruption Dragon’ in Kenyan Journalism”, Journal of Media Ethics, Volume 31, 2016, Issue 4), researcher Kioko Ireri found 74 per cent of the journalists who responded believe corruption is rife in Kenyan media.
The point I’m making is that it has become fashionable for newsmakers to accuse journalists of having been bought when they are reported in bad light, even when they cannot produce one scintilla of evidence.
The Public Editor is an independent news ombudsman who handles readers’ complaints on editorial matters including accuracy and journalistic standards. Email: email@example.com. Call or text 0721989264.