Police spokesman, arrogance and speaking plain truth to the public

Bruno Shioso

Police Spokesperson Bruno Shioso. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The NMG editorial policy says editorials must not be spiteful, prejudiced, propagandist or extremist.
  • They must avoid the bizarre and offensive and always maintain standards of decency and good taste.

Police spokesperson Bruno Shioso is upset by the Daily Nation editorial, “Police must be fair in handling political rows”, published last Friday. 

The editorial criticizes the way Mr Shioso responded to a letter on election campaign violence written by United Democratic Alliance (UDA) officials to President Uhuru Kenyatta. The letter expresses concern about security incidents “sustained by official inaction and condonement by the State”.

What upsets Mr Shioso most is the statement that his response is “rather arrogant”. The editorial went “too far” by labelling him as arrogant, says the National Police Service (NPS) director of communications and spokesperson.

Is Mr Shioso justified in his complaint? Did the editorial go overboard? Did it breach journalistic standards?

To answer those questions, let’s first look at what the NMG editorial policy says regarding its editorials. The policy says editorials must not be spiteful, prejudiced, propagandist or extremist. They must avoid the bizarre and offensive and always maintain standards of decency and good taste. “Wording should be temperate and non-inflammatory,” the policy further states.

The editorial, in the main and point by point, says Mr Shioso must not be partisan in the discharge of his duties. The UDA officials have followed the procedure in lodging complaints. The police must strive to be even-handed in handling disputes between rivals. They should investigate an incident or allegation before telling off a complainant. 

NMG editorial policy

The police have dismissed as baseless allegations by UDA that it has failed to stop the violence against its supporters, the editorial goes on. But there have been several incidents in which youths disrupted UDA public rallies.

Mr Shioso has denounced UDA’s protest as “outrageous and provocative” and aimed at tarnishing the name of Kenya Police Service (KPS). It is not enough for the police to declare that they are committed to enforcing the rule of law, it concludes.

Does that amount to a breach of the NMG editorial policy and journalistic standards? Clearly, no. The editorial makes factual statements and opinions cogently argued from the facts. It uses temperate language.

The only possible exception is the use of the word “arrogant”. If one wants to be prim and proper, we can say the editorial writer should not have used the word. In fact, if you take out the words “rather arrogant” from the statement in question, it does not lose its essential meaning. 

The statement reads: “Police Spokesperson Bruno Shioso’s rather arrogant response to complaints of alleged harassment by Deputy President William Ruto’s allies is uncalled for and unjustified.” What does ‘arrogant’ mean? 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines arrogant as “unpleasantly proud and behaving as if you are more important than, or know more than, other people”. The synonyms the dictionary gives include conceited, imperious and overbearing. 

Winning public confidence

Clearly, it would be offensive — even insulting — to call Mr Shioso arrogant in an editorial of this magnitude. He is justified in taking offence. There is no evidence that, as a person, he is arrogant.

However, what the editorial actually says is that his response to the UDA letter was arrogant. Can you separate the two, the person and the statements? Possibly. As the NPS spokesperson, Mr Shioso’s role is to communicate to the public on behalf of the police service. 

In fact, he says this himself: “In my response, I simply stated facts as they were and are from the police perspective. And such presented facts are verifiable from official records.”

Truly, if readers of the Nation are looking for arrogance, they would probably find it — not in Mr Shioso but statements made elsewhere by his superiors. 

This brings us to an important point, which Mr Shioso seems to have missed: He has a responsibility to advise his superiors that the best way to win public support and confidence is not to issue statements that are arrogant, inappropriately defensive and angry.

As the top communication and public relations official in the NPS, it is his role to ensure that public announcements are made in the most appropriate fashion to build public trust and credibility. Issuing statements that are inappropriately hostile to complainants, losing temper when confronted with accusations, does not build trust and credibility.

The Public Editor is an independent news ombudsman who handles readers’ complaints on editorial matters including accuracy and journalistic standards. Email: [email protected] Call or text 0721989264.

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