When whistleblower decides not to go to the media to give information

Jubilee Party Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni

Jubilee Party Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni. The Nation report on January 19 says, “Kioni alleged the existence of a document showing that results....” The Nation is actually telling the reader it’s not sure of the veracity of the document. Or even the very existence of a bona fide whistleblower.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

The reporting by the Nation of last week’s whistleblower story on the “rigged” results of the August 9 election was cautious.

This almost took the sting out of the story. The story could, arguably, have been the front-page leading story on Thursday last week.

But it was relegated to second place after “Moi’s land grab case” story which became the leading story.

The headline reads: “New dossier claims Raila won in 2022”. The use of the term “claims”, instead of “says”, downgrades the story. Other terms in the Nation report that further downgrades the story are “alleges”, “alleged” and “allegedly”, all of which cast doubt on the story.

The narration begins with the words “Citing an anonymous whistleblower identified as an electoral official...” and “the unnamed individual...”, which plays up the anonymity of the story. Anonymity further casts doubt on the legitimacy of the story because readers cannot judge the value of the story if they don’t know the source.

In good journalism, sources should not be allowed to hide behind anonymity to take cheap shots without anyone knowing they have a dog in the fight.

The whistleblower is described by Azimio as an IEBC employee who was central to the administration of the 2022 General Election. But that could refer to almost anyone—from a returning office in Nyeri to a low-level data entry clerk at Anniversary Towers and even one of the seven IEBC commissioners.

Dampens vitality

The Nation story of January 19 was published in full on pages 4-5 under the headline “‘IEBC whistleblower’ shows Raila won election, Azimio says.” The wording of the headline dampens the vitality of the story because, according to the Nation report, it requires the Azimio mediation and interpretation to ring true.

In fact, the Nation report says, “Jubilee Party Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni alleged the existence of a document showing that results....” The report goes on to say: “According to the document presented by the whistleblower, who Kioni claims identified himself as an employee of the IEBC who was central to the conduct of the 2022 elections....” 

The Nation is actually telling the reader it’s not sure of the veracity of the document. Or even the very existence of a bona fide whistleblower.

The guarded reporting in the Nation is further evidenced by the attributions the newspaper uses. Attributions let readers know who is saying what or where the information comes from.

The most neutral attribution is “said”. Journalists are encouraged to stick to “said”, unless there are good reasons for using other terms such as “stated”, “warned” and “pointed out”.

The simple “he said” does not suggest either belief or disbelief, whereas terms such as “stated” and “pointed out” imply that what was said is an undisputed fact. In particular, the term “claimed”, used in the Nation report, suggests the reporter does not believe what is being said.

The whistleblower’s story is, thus, been watered down by the attributions. This arises because the story was processed and disseminated by Azimio. The media reported it second-hand. 

If the whistleblower dossier had been released directly to newsrooms, the media would have owned the story. In that case, the media would have been expected to check the source to make sure it is reliable and the information is credible, accurate, fair, balanced and well documented.

This is normally how the whistleblower’s information is processed and disseminated. Whistleblowers go to the media instead of going to other bodies or persons because the media lends credence to such information.

This is what David Munyakei did with the Goldenberg scandal of the 1990s. This is what John Githongo did in 2005 with the Anglo Leasing scandal. This is what Spencer Sankale Ololchike did with the Maasai Mara University graft scandal.

In all these stories, the media named the whistleblower. The media avoids the gratuitous use of anonymity. The NMG editorial policy is that anonymous sources should not be used unless the pursuit of truth will best be served by not naming the sources or if they request anonymity. If an anonymous source is used, the policy also requires that the reason for it be revealed.

To have the greatest impact and credibility, a whistleblower needs to go to the media—not to brokers. Readers trust journalists more than they trust brokers, and they trust whistleblowers more if they put their names on the information.

‘WR’ is just endless politicking

The ‘Letter from the Editor’ by Henry Munene, “Early campaigns, political interests must not take precedence over public service” (The Weekly Review, Issue No. 19, Jan. 8), was a breath of fresh air in addressing our politics. Yes, indeed, the endless politicking election after election diverts attention from Kenya’s development agenda, is a hindrance to its economic take-off and has a deleterious effect on economic growth.

But you seem to be unaware of the media’s vicarious prime contribution to the malaise. The media is in a symbiotic relationship with politicians in which each feeds off the other to the citizen’s detriment. You politick with your headlines and columns endlessly, no doubt for sales.

In Issue No. 19, all the ‘Kenya lens’, ‘Opinions’ et cetera by your principal columnists are about politics. The politicians politick endlessly with an eye to be “captured” in the media for relevance. One had hoped the ‘new’ WR would at least equal the original. The latter would have pitted two economists on opposite sides arguing the merits and flaws of the “trickle-down” and the “bottom-up” economic models. Instead, all we get is how the “bottom-up” model will fail.

— Michael Hatego, Busia


This SUDOKU is over-utilised

The SUDOKU game running daily in the Nation states: “In the upper left square (circled in blue), this square already has 7 out of the 9 squares filled in.” This statement has appeared in all SUDOKUs I have seen. Maybe the editor should fish for another for 2023.

— Geoffrey Mburu


Why I remain glued to BBC

News has disappeared on all TV channels. What you see is plethora of incessant bombardment of irritating ugly adverts every few minutes. One is thus glued to BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN.... 

— Manilal Gohil


In the past, you used to publish the full text of presidential speeches made during national holidays. Abridged versions do not suffice. National affairs should be prioritized.

— Alnashir D Walji, Nairobi


I refer to your article “Who is afraid of reporting news of leader wetting himself on live TV?” (Daily Nation, Jan. 13). I dare say it was kinky.

— Prof Joe Kimura

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