BWIRE: Conversations, reflections professional measures for media accountability

Profession invaded by outsiders whose interest is to misuse media for selfish gains

In Summary

• The profession has been invaded by outsiders whose only interest is to misuse the media for selfish gains, and players in the sector must be wary of such groups.

• We need to ensure diversity of voices and the choice of guests during our shows.

Journalists covering a past event.
Journalists covering a past event.
Image: FILE

During the just-ended media engagement on elections preparedness and launch of the guidelines for coverage of the 2022 General Election in Kenya, it has always come out that constant peer review and professional information exchange is will remain the constant factor in enhancing accountability in the sector.

Elections coverage many times a daunting task to the journalists and media sector goes through a lot of pressure, thus preparedness and more importantly, solidarity and a common approach to issues is very desirable including support mechanism.

The signing by the industry on the guidelines on elections reporting and commitment by the key industry stakeholders to ensure professional and responsible practice during the period is an indication that there is a big possibility for the sector to work together both for the industry and the public.

The profession has been invaded by outsiders whose only interest is to misuse the media for selfish gains, and players in the sector must be wary of such groups.

The profession needs a close-knit working relationship that goes beyond individual interests, business considerations and political mechanisation and stands firm as professionals for the good of the public.

The industry, especially the editors, has no option but to create linkages that will allow them to cushion themselves against harassment and misuse.

They have a strong membership and voice if they stand together and firm, allow plurality in approach to issues by maintaining professional solidarity on key journalistic issues.

It was refreshing and apparent that many media and journalists colleagues rarely meet and share internal industry issues that relate to the opportunities and challenges in the sector.

A lot is left to the few public editors in the newsrooms, courtrooms or at the Media Council of Kenya Complaints Commission.

In fact, one of the documents that I have ever read and seems to have the most information on the growth and contribution of the media sector in Kenya is a court document.

Yet when you interact and listen to many journalists and media practitioners around, there is a lot you learn. 

At least I know Timothy Wanyonyi, a veteran journalist who is writing his newsrooms memoirs.

Professional journalists must move from lamentations, secluding themselves from feedback and peer reviews, interactions amongst themselves to share lessons, and support self-regulation in the profession by respecting their own code and subjecting themselves to accountability.

A number of people are taking advantage of the lapse in response and seemingly aloofness from some journalists and media houses, who seem more concerned with the journalism business rather than the business of journalism.

It's not about the media house you work for, because you are just an employee, who can move from that media house to another.

What goes on in the media is more than just journalism, and others in the industry are sitting and discussing emerging issues in the industry including plotting against journalists, while journalists are busy fighting with and amongst themselves.

Feedback from the many sessions we have held through the towns halls organised by the Kenya Editors Guild and the Media and information literacy forums with the Media Council of Kenya across the country, and a recent self-reflection forum with station managers, talk show hosts and online editors, shows things on the ground have changed.

Let journalists outside their media houses, personal interests and tribal inclinations as a matter of urgency find ways through their various existing bodies and associations, see the lurking danger and threats to the profession find ways of coming together to review their performance and relevance to society.

A lot of people now want media attention and coverage; the big players in the country especially the political and business class have invested in media campaigns and will want to sway public opinion to their side-they will cry out and blame media whenever critical stories come out on them.

In the same breath, a number of media relation brokers/middlemen and quacks are in the market in search of the politicians’ millions in the name of fixing their media problems.

Many with past media working connections have bought media equipment including cameras, recorders, and notebooks and have media badges, to convince none suspecting Kenyans of how they will secure media coverage; especially positive stories covered or negative ones killed, but their only interest is the money.

A number of people have raised concerns about the quality and professionalism exhibited by the media in terms of content and behaviour.

There are too many masqueraders in the industry and it's becoming very difficult for legitimate journalists to work. 

While for a long time the issues were corruption in the media industry and restrictions in terms of legal regime relating to media practice in Kenya, now the biggest ugly face of journalism in the country is lack of professionalism and unregulated content on air.

Kenyans should be aware that not all people carrying cameras, recorders and notebooks are journalists or work for legitimate and credible media outlets; many are mere cons and brokers looking for your money.

Press Conferences will be parked to capacity, fake interviews will be done and a number of sources will be asked to facilitate or “release” the “journalists” after those interviews or press conferences, but no stories will be forthcoming.

Angry sources after failing to see the articles will accuse the media of all manner of things creating a very hostile working environment for journalists and other media workers who are legitimate.

Misrepresentation as most of the quacks in the industry does is a criminal offence and attracts an arrest.

Public places including hotels and offices, ensure you establish the authenticity of those claiming to be working for media. Don’t fall prey to cons in town.

The grasp of the professional ethics for the practice of journalism in Kenya by many media workers, especially over radio stations who host talk shows and caller in programmes is seriously wanting.

Training and sensitisation are a must and people must up their performance.  Let’s stop using prime time airtime on cheap and vulgar talk while coached callers fill most of the time but prioritise issues of national concern or development during the discussions.

We need to ensure diversity of voices and the choice of guests during our shows.

There is a lot of pressure on the industry both from the business and the professional sides to relook on the manner of going about their work.

Individual media houses, especially the big corporates in the country are investing in new business models and content delivery systems as they continue to realign in the new environment, but the larger industry is choking.

Away from the issue of the media business and ownership issues that have a big influence on journalists practice, including on editorial influencing, unleashing corporate terrorism on journalisms, by way of sacking independent journalists, mismanagement and running down otherwise strong media enterprises through theft and poor decision making, it's time journalists realized that they are on their own.

Interestingly, the people who are suffering most in the reducing space in the media industry are journalists; whenever the staff retrenchment happens, the other departments are rarely touched, it's always the editorial departments.

Journalists are the smallest number in many media enterprises nowadays.