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.




Thursday, 30 January 2014


In yet another indication of the mediocrity that seems to have taken permanent residence in some Kenyan newsrooms, a story with contradictory facts has safely made it to the pages of a leading daily. The end result is one story, in one newspaper, but carrying different facts.

It's understandable for a number of editors to seek to fine tune details of one story, at different stages in the production process. But there must not be more than one version of the final story, in the same paper. 

That this happened in a newspaper from the stable of the largest publisher in this part of Africa, makes the error in editorial judgement even more monumental, if not perplexing.

The front-page teaser of this story about a violent matatu protest, states that a tout was allegedly killed by a police officer, in a row over fare. 

On turning to page 22, for the full details of the story, the facts amazingly metamorphose, and the cause of the altercation between the police officer and the tout, is now attributed to a demand for a bribe.

Moreover, there's reference being made to a policeman, an unknown gunman, and even armed men, as 'allegedly' having been at the centre of the dispute that sparked the protest.

If the newspaper editors are not sure about the salient facts of a story, alleged or otherwise, (as indicated by the different versions published), how is the reader expected to believe any information contained in the same story?

No wonder it's so easy for people to say, "Don't believe what you read in the papers."

Wednesday, 29 January 2014


Kenyans were recently treated to what some described as a shocking display of the country's precarious security, courtesy of a broadcast investigative report. But supposing the same routine of leaving a bag unattended, had been extended to the media outlet's own offices? Would that bit have been aired, if the same laxity would have been exhibited?

Yes. The 'brilliant' story was probably designed to gauge the security preparedness in public places, hence the choice of the airport, hospital, police station, supermarket, and public transportation.

But, in as much as the 'eye-opening' feature firmly established Kenya, indeed, could be a playground for terror elements, and did subsequently scrambled security agents into corrective action, there are those who feel the investigative piece compromised national security.

The reasoning being advanced is that it is not appropriate to publicise the country's vulnerability, security-wise, even if the main objective is to make the nation more secure.

In this case, this argument goes, the national interest should have prevailed over the public interest and the right of citizens to know the state of security alertness.

So, going back to my hypothetical scenario, had the investigative team also planted a bag at their own office's reception, and monitored people's reaction, what would have happened? What if the security personnel there were also reckless?

Chances are extremely high the editors/managers at the TV station would want that part left out. Why? They certainly wouldn't want to implicate themselves in their own channel, as the expose showcased security lapses in various other places.

And therein would have been a fine example of how the truth can sometimes be sacrificed, for the sake of a perceived greater common good... a case of selfishly protecting one's professional reputation in the public eye, as well as minimising the risk of potential future threats.

In the same line of thinking, is it preposterous to ask even journalists to selfishly safeguard matters of national security, when these are in competition with public interest affairs?

It's now nevertheless been re-established that Kenya's level of alertness in identifying security threats, is generally wanting, (despite the public reaction after the feature suggesting it's a new discovery).

And as hearty congratulations are heaped on a proactive media initiative, for an exemplary public service from a responsive press... let's all be reminded that maintenance of security is a process in perpetuity.

The same security agencies being condemned or castigated in the mass/social media, are the same ones to run to, during any eventual attack. Demotivating them might leave the public more exposed to any lurking danger.

Thursday, 23 January 2014


Should a news source be allowed to sue for defamation, if they are quoted in a very badly written newspaper article? They're being linked to a product that potentially may damage their reputation or lower their standing in society, after all. Or should the papers be compelled to publish an apology for editorial or glaring grammatical blunders?

This is the common practise in instances, where newspaper articles propagate inaccuracies or deviate from the factual representation of the truth, especially where subjects are adversely mentioned. But perhaps the same should now apply to poorly written articles.

What's the desired meaning of this paragraph, from a recent article, by the largest newspaper publisher in the East African region?

"When one borrows money with the intention of buying land  or property through marriage, the borrower also various rights guaranteed by law."

Then a source is attributed saying, "...the where the charge provides for variable interest, the lender must give the borrower at least 30 days' notice in writing if it wants to increase or reduce the interest rate."

Should such grammatical cum semantic assassinations be allowed to go unrebuked in the public eye?

The same article seems to have 'invented' the use of ONLY closing quotation marks, in a paragraph that is not linked to any particular person or statement.

This syntactic 'innovation' is replicates somewhere else, only this time the opening quotation marks are deployed in isolation.

There are a couple of other editorial blunders, in this 'gem-packed' article, which raise concern about quality control inadequacies in Kenya's leading newspapers.

And is the concept of using direct quotes for emphasis, so hard to grasp? For identical information, you can either choose to use direct or reported speech, not BOTH at the same time!

In this front page article, the writer/editor reports that the Labour Cabinet Secretary said: "... the national safety net fund has already flushed 1,400 ghost beneficiaries from the disability component of the fund."

Then immediately after, the reader's eyes are accosted by a direct quote from the same Labour Cabinet Secretary saying, "We have already struck off 1,400 ghost recipients from the disability fund..."

Is it that the reader is not supposed to trust the reported facts attributed to the Labour Cabinet Secretary, unless the same have been backed by direct quotes by him? Or does the need for emphasis, override the pain of wanton repetition?

This front page story, according to the editor, continues on Page 6. But if you turn to that particular page, the article is nowhere to be found. One encounters the rest of the story on Page 4, instead!

The case for an apology for editorial blunders may be far-fetched, (for now), but one does rightly expect that newspaper gatekeepers ought to be capable of preventing 'minor' yet 'massive' errors from getting published.

Thursday, 16 January 2014


What do you call a copy of a copy pasted copy? Re-pasted copy paste, or copied copy pasted copy? That's what's happening to Kenya's broadcasting scene. Television programmes especially, are littered with non-original ideas and concepts. So, isn't it time we had a localised version of Jerry Springer?

Yes, yes. There's no added value in re-inventing the wheel. However, the spinning of the wheel is extremely useful, only if it accomplishes different functions or if it leads to different destinations. In other words, the wheel is a means to possibly, a non-finite end.

But the lack of authentic creativity permeating through local television stations is now approaching alarming (and sickening) levels.

And it seems there's a misguided illusion that formats and content can be liberally lifted from pay TV channels, and re-packaged by the free to air stations.

The simplistic reason being that not many people have access to subscription-based TV content.

It does border the ridiculous though, when a station 're-originates' a programme concept and even retains the same 'borrowed' title.

There's a difference in spelling, to be fair. Perhaps the spelling mistake is the distinguishing mark. Some other times, the title is tweaked a bit.

This is probably done in order to 'safely' regurgitate a programme concept, and enabled viewers to stomach the plagiarism aftertaste.

(And while at it, it wouldn't hurt to even imitate the physique and mannerisms of the original programme's host, right?)

Having numbed viewers with copious versions of look-alike hidden camera programmes, dance or singing elimination shows, fast fading stand up comedies, gospel and secular musical shows, repetitious 'plotless' dramas, winding wedding shows, etc...maybe it's time to stir thing a little in the local broadcast menu.

Ethics and morality issues don't seem to count for much these days. So it will not be too far fetched to expect Kenya's own Jerry Springer, to soon heat up the local TV screens now, will it?

Copycats copy that!!!

Thursday, 9 January 2014


He's an authority, when it comes to matters to do with language: from origin to modern usage of English, Nilotic, Germanic, Indo-European...and practically any tongue under, or even below the sun. So, when he's criticising, its hard to find fault in the critic, his critique and brand of criticism.

But one thing that Philip Ochieng excels in (etymological or otherwise), is confusing, especially the not so erudite members of his audience, (feel really free to include me in that category).

In his moving tribute to the late Professor William Ochieng, the renowned Kenyan journalist sought to clarify the positive impact of his 'literary attacks' of the historian. He says:

"...to criticise need not be the same thing as to denigrate and to degrade."

I immediately thought there was a contradiction there. To criticise denotes something negative right? The folks at Oxford dictionary even define it as:

"...indicate the faults of (someone or something) in a disapproving way."

Hang on. To criticise can also mean:

"...form and express a judgement of (a literary or artistic work

Still, there's a sense of negativity about the word criticise. And yet Philip Ochieng goes ahead to say:

"...criticism can function positively...."

My conclusion is that, the point Philip Ochieng is trying to drive home should have been better expressed, using a neutral word like critique, and not criticise, (criticism is fine, don't be quick to criticise).

And had it not been that the newspaper article was penned by the 'Philip Ochieng Institution' I would have straight away faulted the paper's editor, for choosing the wrong word to express the right context.

There is ample backup to suspect the daily's editor. Another article in the same paper, has a footnote saying the writer comments on 'typical issues' as opposed to 'topical' ones.

One other article did stir some intense interest in me. Another famous author David Mailu, was making a passionate appeal for Kenya's most recognised literary export, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, to return to his home country, from his American academic base.


The main argument of this 2014 article, is exactly the same as what I had postulated in my very first published article, in the then People Weekly newspaper.

And the year was....1995!!!

Somebody get me a walking stick please.