Why in journalism we never use the ‘Honourable’ and ‘Excellency’ titles

His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta

In journalism, we never use the “His/Her Excellency” and “Honourable” honorifics (except in quoted speech).

Photo credit: File | PSCU

Francis Njuguna of Kibichoi in Kiambu County says the Nation seems to be confused as to when to use the words “aspirant” and “candidate”. To check, I looked at a number of published stories in the last few weeks. I was struck by how often the two words are used interchangeably.

For example, one story talks of Jubilee Party “aspirants” and “candidates” as if they are one and the same (“Azimio aspirants in Mt Kenya raise Raila worries,” Daily Nation, May 05, 2022). Another story refers to Mwangi wa Iria’s Usawa Kwa Wote party “aspirants” when they are clearly candidates. (“Wa Iria’s surprise move into Azimio stirs Mt Kenya politics,” Daily Nation, July 21, 2022)

In yet another story Paul Mugambi (Jubilee) is described as a “Senate hopeful” for Tharaka-Nithi (“Raila, Ruto promise to fix Nithi Bridge blackspot if elected”, Daily Nation, July 29, 2022). The term “hopeful”, while technically correct, doesn’t really specify exactly where he is on the journey to the political office. It would have been more accurate to describe him as the Jubilee Senate candidate.

There is really no reason to confuse “aspirant” with “candidate” or vice versa. But when the terms are used interchangeably, the reader may be confused.

Political campaigns

To state the obvious, the term “candidate” means a person contesting for an elective post. This implies the person has successfully gone through a nomination process.

Nominations are carried out by political parties, which nominate candidates for an election at least 90 days before a general election in accordance with the Election Act, their constitution and nomination rules.

In the election process, one first aspires to political office, such as a member of the National Assembly for a particular constituency. One can then be described as an aspirant. When one is nominated — chosen — by a political party and their name is submitted to the IEBC then one becomes a candidate. A candidate who is not a member of a political party becomes an independent candidate.

A County Assembly aspirant, for example, is someone who has ambitions to become an MCA while a County Assembly candidate is someone who is on the final journey for election as an MCA.

Mr Njuguna is also concerned with the use of the term “Honourable”. He says: “In the height of our current political campaigns, I have seen this terminology Honourable used on people who are not yet Honourables but are looking forward to be elected.” However, this misuse of titles is not a Nation problem.

On Tuesday next week we will elect the Waheshimiwa (Honourables) and candidates will cease to be. There will be Honourable (abbreviated Hon.) so-and-so – those who will be elected MCAs or MPs. Those who will be elected Governor, Deputy Governor, President or Deputy President will be referred to as “His/Her Excellency”, an honorific that is a notch higher above “Honourable”.

Confer respect

They will use the honorifics during their term of office. Some will insist on using them even after they are no longer in office. There is no law governing the use of titles by politicians elected into office.

In 2015, the National Assembly passed “The Order of Precedence and Titles Bill”, which regulated who can use what title. The Bill was forwarded to the Senate for consideration but that was the end of it.

The Bill, if it had been signed into law, would have stripped governors and MCAs of the “Excellency” and “Honourable” titles. Only the President and Deputy President would today be referred to as “His/Her Excellency” and only MPs would be referred to as “Honourable”. Governors would simply be Governor so-and-so and MCAs would be “MCA so-and-so.

In journalism, however, we never use the “His/Her Excellency” and “Honourable” honorifics (except in quoted speech).

The titles are supposed to confer respect and dignity but, with due respect, they do not add value to a story. They only fill space and slow down a story.

Journalism seeks to produce clear and consistent stories simply written, not stories that confuse and bemuse readers.

The trend in modern journalism is to simplify things by dropping honorifics of any kind, including such titles as Dr, Prof, Mr, Mrs and Ms. But that is a topic for another day.

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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