Finance Bill 2024
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Reporting taxes: How journalists injected their personal opinions

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Chairperson of the National Assembly Finance and National Planning Committee, Kimani Kuria, displays a copy of Finance Bill 2024 at Parliament Buildings Nairobi on June 18, 2024.


Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The dominant descriptor in the news reports about the new taxes has been the adjective “punitive”. It is the leading adjective that has been repeatedly used and which has probably helped to manipulate public emotions.

Leading adjectives help journalists to provide more context and detail about the things they are describing. An example from Macharia Gaitho’s column on Tuesday:”[Citizens are] fed up with an unfeeling, arrogant, oppressive ruling class”.

It’s not clear who first used the leading adjective “punitive” to describe the proposed taxes. One of the earliest use was in a Nation story, “Raila Odinga’s new strategy to counter President Ruto taxes”, published on January 31. The story said that Mr Odinga was working on a plan to compel President William Ruto to drop the “punitive” taxes.

The descriptor “punitive” was not attributed to Mr Odinga. It appears to be a description made by the two reporters who wrote the story.

Since then, this descriptor has been repeatedly used in various news reports, becoming the leading adjective to describe the new taxes.

Example of punitive taxes

The adjective was prominently used in the extensive Nation coverage of the Finance Bill on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. However, punitive taxes are not just high taxes.

They are taxes imposed on certain products or activities with the primary aim of discouraging their consumption or occurrence. A common example of punitive taxes is the “sin tax” imposed on tobacco, alcohol and gambling.

The current high levies imposed on muguka by three Coast counties are also punitive taxes because the intention is to reduce the trade in and consumption of muguka.

Taxes may be unpopular because they are high, unjust, oppressive, predatory, or over-taxation. But to use the adjective “punitive” when the intention is to raise more revenue, is subjective. It’s the writer’s opinion or personal feeling about the taxes, unsupported by observable facts.

Impartiality and objectivity

Journalists should strive to use neutral, objective descriptors that accurately describe the facts, without adding their own opinion or perspective.

They should also strive to present all sides in complex or controversial issues, rather than taking a one-sided approach that favours a particular viewpoint.

In reporting news, journalists shouldn’t inject their personal opinions because that violates journalism’s core principles of impartiality and objectivity. Personal opinions can lead to biased reporting, which may not give a fair representation of all sides of a story. This unfairness can result in misinformation and potentially harm the public interest.

Injecting personal opinions can manipulate the audience’s perception of the issues. This can also create echo chambers, polarise society and hinder informed decision-making.

Including personal opinions in news reporting can dilute or distract from the facts, making it difficult for the audience to distinguish between facts and subjective viewpoints. In summary, we must say a journalist’s role is to report the news, not to influence public opinion.


Keith Ang’ana of Nairobi has expressed his disappointment with The Weekly Review, a magazine revived in September 2022 and now published as part of the Sunday Nation.

Mr Ang’ana says the magazine used to have an excellent mix of articles, featuring historical writings from John Kamau, Levin Opiyo, John Fox and Mervyn Maciel, as well as economic analyses from Jaindi Kisero and political commentary from Macharia Gaitho.

However, Mr Ang’ana has noted that the magazine has since shifted its focus to politics almost exclusively, with a narrow focus on Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Mt Kenya politics.

The recent publication was the final straw for Mr Ang’ana, who believes that The Weekly Review has the potential to become a major player in the publishing industry, featuring in-depth long-form articles on a range of topics.

As the only magazine in the Nation that publishes long-form articles, he suggests that The Weekly Review diversify its content to create a niche that would make people eager to purchase the newspaper every Sunday. He recommends allocating space for more historical articles, economics, culture and art, among other topics.

He believes that such a diversification would set the magazine apart from other publications and make it a must-read for those seeking in-depth analysis and insight into the events of the week.

As an avid reader, Mr Ang’ana is disappointed in the current direction of the magazine but hopes that future publications will better reflect the diversity of opinions and topics that he believes the magazine has the potential to offer.

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