If you feel a news story does not measure up to expected journalistic standards, bring it to the Journalism Dry Cleaner. Through our collective wisdom, we will strip it of all offensive dirt.




Wednesday, 21 March 2018


News has moved from cycles of 24hours for newspapers, hourly for radio and TV, around the clock on websites and even 69 seconds a minute on social media. Traditional news outlets have all but lost the battle of breaking news. But providing context and analysis remains a bastion of legacy media. Episodic news coverage, however, helps the audience to miss the big picture.

After heavy rains pounded many parts of Kenya, local dailies narrowed on a particular area that had developed huge cracks across a busy highway, with the fault lines extending for quite some distance.

Initially, the reportage was anchored on what officials in charge of road construction and maintenance had to say, and efforts to ensure urgent repairs allowed the traffic to move again.

But days earlier, one of the dailies had a story about a community worried about repeated tremors, not so far from where the ground appeared later to be opening up.

Yet there was no indication that the views of an expert were sought, or a corroboration of the reported seismic activity with relevant geological data.

Thereafter, TV news channels trained their focus on the unusual fissures that emerged after the heavy downpour.

And now perhaps sensing there could be a more 'juicier' story, there was suddenly talk of Kenya splitting, an tectonic plates shifting.

To underpin the supposed seriousness of this 'newfound' issue, the story got a page one treatment, and this time, lots of experts were captured in the article.

The latest instalment of this episodic coverage is a an editorial.

All these elements appear to be connected:

- the tremors,

- the heavy rains,

- the emerging fault lines

- even the country splitting

- and the possibility of Kenya finding itself in another new continent, detached from mainland Africa, with other neighbouring countries.

But the information shared by the media did not adequately equip the audience to make sense of these related developments, in my opinion.

Let's see where the next episode takes us.

Thursday, 15 March 2018


It's been described as the biggest medical mix-up in Kenya. A patient in no need of brain surgery had the procedure conducted on him, at the country's largest referral hospital. The cause of the confusion is being attributed to two patients being wrongly labelled. Apparently, it's just not medics who mess up name tags. 

The fallout from this harrowing medical error has been closely followed by the media.

And yet in seeking to help the audience understand the circumstances that led to this monumental mistake, a section of the media inadvertently demonstrated just how 'easy' it can be to mix-up people's names.

According to this TV news report, Dr. Malachi Odhiambo, is an anaesthetist at the Kenyatta National Hospital.

But are we referring to this Dr. Malachi Odhiambo?

Or maybe this one?

No, wait...the above could as well be the real Dr. Malachi Odhiambo.

Clearly, editorial desk errors, do not even come close to errors in judgement, on the operating table.

The media though, operates on the premise that facts are sacred.

And getting people's names and titles right is among the most basic of required journalistic rigour.

So too, is correcting editorial mistakes.

It's unacceptable that this one error appeared on screen on two different days, across three bulletins!

Thursday, 8 March 2018


A picture, it is said, can convey the same information as a thousand words. In the Kenyan press, however, one can be made to suspect that words can ruin a picture. What one directly sees from a picture can be so different from what the captions says. In this case, seeing is closer to believing, than reading what accompanies photos.

In the picture above, a medical procedure is being administered.

And for those who have had the same procedure done to them, it should not be difficult to conclude that wax is being removed by flushing the ear with water.

The picture vividly captures the discomfort of the young patient, and the process involved is also quite evident.

What the caption is supposed to do, is to provide context to assist the reader to make sense of what's being depicted in the picture, beyond the obvious details.

But it states in part:
"A nurse at Kenyatta National Hospital's ear, nose and throat (ENT) clinic, Ms Patricia Nzuki examines 13-year-old Maureen Muthoni's ear..."
It's pretty clear the nurse is doing more than just an examination of the patient, right?

For the local press though, things can get really ugly, when it comes to the captioning of pictures.

I am yet to recover from this editorial monstrosity!

Thursday, 1 March 2018


Call it self-censorship, coerced self-censorship or assisted self-censorship. Despite frequent assertions of being independent, fearless and courageous, the media in Kenya can be described as being timid. The slightest of existential threats can trigger the greatest compromise of editorial integrity. Yet amid this sea of spineless journalism, is a rare paragon of press freedom.

The discussion at a graduate school lesson in London, almost ten years ago, turned to external and internal forces that hinder media operations.

And when the lecturer asked for examples of interference with press freedom, I had it all figured out, (with the option of suspense-inducing sound effects).

The class listened attentively as I narrated how a TV expose by a brave reporter, who risked great danger while filming in a neighbouring country, generated so much tension in the newsroom.

After immense pressure from government functionaries, who in turn were probably getting their own dose of high voltage jolts from officials of the neighbouring country, the management of the media house gave an assurance that the story will not air.

But convincing the broadcast managing editor to drop the story, proved to be unlike any other battle to safeguard the independence of the media.

He remained adamant about the story being flighted, and in a very professional manner, dismissed the concerns of the media company's CEO.

To ensure the story does not air, no less a person than the editorial director was dispatched to monitor the TV news desk. But the ME devised ingenious ways of ensuring the clip got to the gallery play-out, much to the trepidation of the editorial director.

And as I applauded this gallant journalist in my class presentation, I seized the opportunity to raise the appreciation levels several notches higher, with a memorable clincher.

I delightfully finished by telling the captive audience:
"I am happy to inform you that this courageous broadcast manager, who is also my boss, was a student in this very same same class we are in."
Ahhh...the satisfaction of that statement...and the sudden realization that we could all be destined for such greatness...remains among my most cherished memories from the University of Westminster.


Some years later after my studies, and re-engaging with the same employer, I got to witness another version of the fierce independence of this paragon of press freedom.

But this time, it was a bit unsettling.

Two events of national importance were happening simultaneously, and only one could be televised live.

One was the vetting of the then yet to be appointed former Director of Public Prosecutions, now a Cabinet Secretary.

And the other was the reading of the national Budget, by the then Finance minister, who is now the president of Kenya.

Our paragon of press freedom had the final word on what the station should broadcast live.

It wasn't the Budget speech!

Thursday, 22 February 2018


In broadcast news, key facts can be repeated, even if it is immediately after a story is first aired. There's a high chance the audience can be distracted. Also, listeners or viewers can't revisit the same story on their own. But repeating a story in the same newspaper serves no purpose at all. It could be a case of poor sight or wanting editorial oversight.

Normally, the space in a newspaper is competitively filled up, with articles literally having to earn their place, (adverts can almost dictate their own placing, based on the amount of cash paid).

Many adverts tend to be accommodated, even if it means printing extra pages.

This in turn would mean sourcing for more stories to publish and fill up the extra spaces.

And when it's a slow news day, with hardly enough stories, more light stories, or the appropriately named filler material, usually get published.

But it's quite odd to see the same story being published twice, (and in opposite pages!).

Please bear with me as I repeat:

This could either be a case of poor sight or wanting editorial oversight.

Thursday, 15 February 2018


The impact of social media is no doubt profound. So disruptive has it been that mainstream media now often fall short of the expectations of their audiences. But mimicking the no-holds barred approach of social networking platforms could be disastrous for legacy media. And a parental guidance disclaimer could become a necessity, to shield young ones from this type of media misguidance.

Editorial gatekeepers ought to consider parents, who innocently buy a supposed family newspaper, only to encounter disturbing images that could rob their children of their innocence.

It is also common ethical practise to render expletives or any obscene language in a manner that sufficiently captures the essence of a story, without upsetting obtaining decency standards...or appearing to glorifying profanity.

In this category definitely falls common or even popular curse or swear words.

The president of Philippines could be foul mouthed.

But that doesn't give a Kenyan newspaper the express permission to expose its entire readership to Duterte's raw and 'vile' public communication skills.

Arguably there are those who might not see anything offensive in the last paragraph in the article, containing a quotation from Duterte.

But I can bet on the ever-living tenets of good manners that sensitivities in a significant number of readers, will be upset by this brazen disregard of ethical considerations.

Moreover, it's almost guaranteed that this same newspaper has had numerous instances, where its chosen to deploy a less portent version of the explicit four-letter word, to at least lessen its tasteless sting.

And the intended meaning, mood or tone, I am convinced, was still relayed, but in a more socially appropriate manner.

There is a time and place for jokes and looking at the lighter side of life, aside from serious media content.

However, being plain trashy, even for the not so puritanical, can be just so nasty!

The moral of this story is that mainstream media should be more like the custodian of society's morals.

And less like the social media corrupter of public morals.

Friday, 9 February 2018


That a human being can subject another human being to so much physical, emotional and mental anguish is truly despicable. That institutions established to help those in distress exhibit massive failures is definitely abhorrable. That media frailties appear to add to the torment of those experiencing domestic violence is shockingly repugnant. 

In this sickening TV news 'expose' one gets to almost feel the raw pain of the victim, as she narrates what she has had to endure.

But journalists should remember that after they are through doing a domestic violence story, the victim still has a life to go back to, with the attendant dangers probably now amplified because of the media exposure.

After watching the harrowing story, one is left wondering why the victim is not getting the help that she so desperately needs.

According to the report, the aggrieved woman did try to reach out to the police and even a renowned women's rights organisation, to no avail.

But is that all that was available to the reporter, when piecing the story together?

- Wouldn't it have been better to follow up with the police to ascertain why this case was not attended to?

-Shouldn't the women's rights defender also be asked to explain why this deserving case was overlooked?

-Couldn't the input of social workers and other government agencies have been sought, to try and ensure the victim and her children were in a safe custody, after the airing of the story?

I refuse to be convinced that a journalist's role is simply to tell the story as it is.

Not when somebody's life is at stake!