Mediaobservermagazine(oct dec)15

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A Publication of the Media Council of Kenya

October - December 2015

Environmental Disasters: Is the

media becoming helpless?

7 16

When stories become an option not a priority.

Ethics and Disaster: Just how far is too far.

10 28

Rules of thumb in disaster reporting

Dilemma of dealing with ethical misconduct

13 37

Why environmental reporting is not for the fainthearted The Destruction of Kenya: Can the media help?

About Us The Media Council of Kenya is an independent national institution established by the Media Council Act 2013 for purposes of setting of media standards and ensuring compliance with those standards as set out in Article 34 (5) of the Constitution.

Council’s Role, Mandate, Functions and Authority The Council draws its mandate and authority from the Media Act 2013. Its functions are to: • Promote and protect the freedom and independence of the media; • Prescribe standards of journalists, media practitioners and media enterprises; • Ensure the protection of the rights and privileges of journalists in the performance of their duties; • Promote and enhance ethical and professional standards amongst journalists and media enterprises; • Advise the government or the relevant regulatory authority on matters relating to professional, education and the training of journalists and other media practitioners; • Set standards, in consultation with the relevant training institutions, for professional education and training of journalists; • Develop and regulate ethical and disciplinary standards for journalists, media practitioners and media enterprises; • Accredit journalists and foreign journalists by certifying their competence, authority or credibility against official standards based on the quality and training of journalists in Kenya including the maintaining of a register of journalists, media enterprises and such other related registers as it may deem fit and issuance of such document evidencing accreditation with the Council as the Council shall determine; • Conduct an annual review of the performance and the general public opinion of the media, and publish the results in at least two daily newspapers of national circulation; • Through the Cabinet Secretary, table before Parliament reports on its functions; • Establish media standards and regulate and monitor compliance with the media standards; • Facilitate resolution of disputes between the government and the media and between the public and the media and intra media; • Compile and maintain a register of accredited journalists, foreign journalists, media enterprises and such other related registers as it may consider necessary; • Subject to any other written law, consider and approve applications for accreditation by educational institutions that seek to offer courses in journalism; and • Perform such other functions as may be assigned to it under any other written law.


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Contents Disasters: Media should rethink its place..................................................................................................................5 Letters to the Editor................................................................................................................................................... 6 When stories become an option, not a priority ...........................................................................................................7 Rules of thumb in disaster reporting ......................................................................................................................... 10 Why environmental reporting is not for the fainthearted ........................................................................................... 13 Ethics and Disaster: Just how far is too far? .......................................................................................................... 16 Why media has only ‘scratched the surface’ ............................................................................................................. 19 Newsroom bias signals need for change in strategy .................................................................................................22 Social media in times of disasters ............................................................................................................................25 Dilemma of dealing with ethical misconduct ............................................................................................................28 In retrospect: Flops and lessons for Journalists......................................................................................................30 Training Sets the Stage for Better Disaster Reporting ..............................................................................................33 Political Craze and the Failed Impartiality Test .........................................................................................................35 The Destruction of Kenya: Can the Media help...................................................................................................... 37 Call to Action as Council Launches Gender Report .................................................................................................. 40 Long road to media regulation..................................................................................................................................42 Forestalling the death of the environment beat.........................................................................................................45

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The Media Observer is published quarterly by the Media Council of Kenya with assistance from Ford Foundation. The views expressed in articles published in this publication are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect those of the Media Council of Kenya. Media Council of Kenya P. O. Box 43132 - 00100 Nairobi, Kenya Tel: +254 20 2737058, 2725032 Cell: +254 727 735252 Email:

Editorial Team:

Chief Executive Officer Dr. Haron Mwangi Editorial Board Joe Kadhi- Chairman Dr. Martha Mbugguss - Vice Chairperson Prof Levi Obonyo Jane Godia Wangethi Mwangi Consulting Editor Omondi Oloo Editorial Coordinators Victor Bwire James Ratemo Kevin Mabonga Contributors Victor Bwire James Ratemo Kevin Mabonga Jeff Otieno Prof Levi Obonyo Kiundu Waweru Joe Kadhi Jane Godia Dr. Martha Mbugguss James Muhindi Stephen Ndegwa Amos Kibet Churchill Otieno William Oketch Photo Credits Kevin Mabonga James Ratemo Moses Omusula Samuel Muigai Design & Layout Colourprint Ltd. Wireless: 020 2101740/41/42 Mob: 0722-203645 / 0733-203645 E-mail:


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Editorial Disasters: Media should rethink its place


Dr. Haron Mwangi

enyans are already far too familiar with the media’s preoccupation with politics.

to profits to interfere with editorial judgment, especially where stories involved have a socioeconomic importance and direct relevance with people and their immediate environment.

Those who understand the primary roles of the media know that the age-old practice of favouring politics at the expense of other stories is gravely absurd.

Contributions made by the media can save lives and reduce economic losses to a considerable extent. There is no denying that citizens rely on the media for public education, early warning, evacuation and coordination of post-disaster relief.

As a result, the mainstream media risks running out of favour with society as proven by dwindling circulation, viewership and listenership. In fact, that’s just a foretaste of what we may continue witnessing in the coming years.

The media’s agenda setting role is important. But rather than continuously set a political agenda, I urge the media to highlight environmental stories with similar vigour.

This open bias in selection and treatment of news and feature stories has now set the stage for debate on why journalism must change course in the 21st century. Certainly, if the Forth Estate is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem. Media’s role as chroniclers and interpreters in the global search for environmental solutions is most crucial. This edition of the Observer seeks to underscore the important stake the media holds in the conservation and development agenda. Threats to climate are already real and tangible. But despite calls for intense awareness creation in the wake of environmental challenges, media houses have been lukewarm in energising the push for action against climate change. At the Media Council of Kenya, we believe every journalist has a role to drive governments into action, while showing defects, solutions and opportunities on global warming. Media managers should not allow their affinity

Think of the human activity in Mau Forest, Mount Kenya and other water catchment areas. How can the media salvage the situation? According to a 2010 Synovate Climate Change study findings presented at the Deutsche Welle global media forum in Germany, majority expect the media to not only inform the public, but also educate them on the consequences of global warming. More than 13,000 people from 18 countries were surveyed. When asked about what they consider a good or excellent source of climate change information, 50 per cent of respondents stated television, followed by websites (48 per cent) and newspapers (44 per cent). The outcome of this research confirms the audience looks to the media for crucial information. This means the media has to lobby, change mindsets and push the conservation agenda. We must change tack or risk plunging into the oblivion. Dr. Haron Mwangi Chief Executive Officer & Secretary to the Council

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Letters to the Editor September Observer edition raised weighty issues


he September edition of the Media Observer magazine which focussed on ‘Professionalism and Ethics in journalism practice and media in Kenya’ was an eye-opener in many fronts. I congratulate the Media Council of Kenya of the incisive pieces, which resonated so well with the contemporary issues facing the journalism world in Kenya. Joe Kadhi’s article ‘Mastering the nuts and bolts’ raises issues with lack of tenacity when it comes to journalists’ interviewing skills. This is a big issue especially when we want answers from politicians regarding governance problems. The other issue it brought out so boldly was the usual pingpong journalism in some media houses. The media should be brave enough to offer the public follow ups on issues. Public interest is sacrosanct. There was also ‘Unmasking celebs and journalists’ by James Oranga, which came in handy because there are many people who mistake celebrities for journalists. It brought to attention the difference between celebrities, media personalities and journalists. This sheds light on how important and prestigious journalism is as a profession. From the September edition of the Observer, I also learnt plans were underway to use a mobile system to expose quacks. That’s good news because journalism impersonators are quite a menace to the journalism profession and I am glad their time is up. With all journalists being registered, the Media Council of Kenya can track any irregularities and ensure appropriate action is taken. The story on graphic images by Peter Mwaura is also worth mentioning.


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Photographs are worth 1,000 words and they are part of journalism. A story without a photo is normally incomplete. But I agree that journalists need to be vigilant when it comes to using photos for their stories. ‘If it bleeds it leads’ should not be an excuse for publishing gruesome images. Editors and journalists should always be guided by ethics. Finally, the article by Jane Godia on harassment in the newsrooms spoke of an elephant in the room which most journalists hardly talk about. Many female journalism students graduate with good grades but fear working in media houses because of sexual harassment. I believe tribalism and sexism has to stop for the profession to progress further. I urge the council to keep up with good work. I look forward to the next edition of the Media Observer. Masege Suki, Nairobi

Observer was an eye opener


he July- September issue of the Media Observer Magazine eruditely covered the elephantine subject that is journalism ethics. William Oloo Janak’s story, Correspondents and the mirage of professionalism especially captured one of the major challenges that face journalism today, of scribes who contribute the larger percentage of newsroom content despite working without any support. This has led to what the Council’s Deputy CEO Victor Bwire terms as ‘lapdog’, journalists who have sold their ‘watchdog’ role to become politicians’ and news sources mouthpieces. Bwire was ‘on fire’ as he addressed journalists at a workshop in Naivasha, castigating them for sacrificing their public trust for the brown envelope and small favours. The journalists sat, first in amusement to amazement and then anger.

During tea break, in small groups we agreed that indeed, this beautiful profession is facing dire straits. But as Janak writes, the problem is borne of the fact that most correspondents believe that professional and ethical journalism is a mirage... “So long as media managers and owners conspire to keep them underpaid and leave them on their own...” Indeed, unfortunately the problem of ethics does not only lie with correspondents. No, there is a bigger elephant in the newsroom, the dearth of good old craft of journalism. You will hear from journalists themselves that nowadays they rarely read their own products. Why? The stories and articles have become predictable and drab, that there is no creativity in the pieces. This is especially so in the era of citizen journalism where news is broken instantaneously, thus calling for analysis and in-depth reportage if the same will be disseminated in the papers the following day. Gone are the days when journalists would give their copy to a colleague to proofread, noting instances of bad grammar and possible libel before submission. Today’s intern is welcomed to an atmosphere where a story starts in the docket, to a press conference and a press release. Uncle Google comes in handy for backgrounders. But for the committed journalists who believe in the beauty of objective storytelling, they mourn that space for telling in-depth stories is shrinking, and thus most giveup on the process of seeking for truth, researching and writing in engaging language, for they fear inadequate treatment of their pieces anyway. Whether this attitude affects accuracy and fairness in the practice of journalism is a matter of debate. Kiundu Waweru Nairobi

When stories become an option, not a priority

As JEFF OTIENO explains, environmental journalism sits far below in the pecking order of news and continues to struggle in finding its rightful place in the newsroom despite its importance to human life.


m e r i c a n journalist Andrew Revkin once said his role as an environment reporter is “to convey what science has revealed about a question, what is not understood, what aspects of an issue can

be clarified through future research, and what amount of unavoidable uncertainty society is saddled with in the end. I couldn’t agree more with Revkin because this is partly what makes environmental reporting stand out from the rest. However, before delving into what an environmental reporter is and is not, it is critical to mention why

environmental journalism is important. It focuses on our surrounding. In other words, stories about the environment are many and exist around us, affecting our daily lives, unlike other forms of journalism. The negative effects of climate change, for example, affects us all, whether you

Oct - Dec • 2015


are a farmer in rural Kenya or a manager of a blue chip company in one of the capital cities of East Africa. In this case, violent weather phenomena, associated with global warming, like El Nino and La Nina, cause wanton destruction to the economy, be it agriculture, transport or energy, a negative scenario affecting all of us in terms of high cost of living.

sacrifice,” adds Frome in his book Green ink: An Introduction to Environmental Journalism. As a result, Frome defines environmental journalism as “writing with a purpose, designed to present the public with sound, accurate data as the basis of informed participation in the process of decision making on environmental issues”

It is important to note that Kenya and other East African countries have in the past suffered severe bouts of drought that, in some cases, resulted in deaths. These are just examples that show the influence of our surroundings in our lives, and it is environmental journalists who inform and educate the public about such events and their effects.

However, despite the importance of environmental journalism to human life, it is yet to find its rightful place in the newsroom. In fact, American-based writer, Bud Ward, argues environmental journalism is far down the pecking order that “if it were alive, it would be an amoeba”. Not many media practitioners will disagree with Ward’s remark, since it reflects the true situation in the Kenyan media.

In fact, the rise of environmental journalism is indeed associated with climate change. Communication scholars credit year 1988 for the rise of environmental journalism and public consciousness as it was the period the world felt the real effects of global warming due to the activities of the modern man. So, what is environmental journalism? There is no agreed single definition of environmental journalism. However, simply put, it is reporting about the environment or mass media coverage about the environment. However, all scholars agree that environmental journalism differs from traditional journalism because it plays by a set of rules based on a consciousness different from the dominant in society, which normally govern other forms of reportage. Michael Frome, a communication expert argues that environmental journalism is more than a way of reporting and writing, but a way of living, of looking at the world, and at oneself. “It starts with a concept of social service, gives voice to struggle and demand, and comes across with honesty, credibility, and purpose. It almost always involves somehow, somewhere, risk and


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Environmental journalism is more than a way of reporting and writing, but a way of living So why is environmental journalism shunned in the newsroom? Many will agree that the problem lies with the way modern day journalism is practiced and managed. Given the fact that modernday journalism is predominantly driven by cut-throat competition for a share of the dwindling advertising revenue and readership, more often than not, media houses tend to go for the easy-sell sensational news, to drive up sales. In this case, politics normally fits the bill. This is because, unlike science, it is easy to splash unverified, sensational remarks, statements or comments made by politicians to attract the readers’ attention, with the sole aim of selling the newspaper.

However, it is difficult to do the same in environmental journalism, which is hinged on proven facts, and must first be understood by the writer, if he or she intends to make any meaningful impact. It is partly the reason why environmental stories do not make it on the front pages of newspapers or become lead stories in news bulletins. In addition, given the fact that environmental risk information is neither easy to obtain nor easy to understand, many reporters and editors shy away from it. In actual fact, a study done by American Opinion Research in the early 90s, found that editors were a major challenge for environmental journalists. This is because they may not have interest in environmental journalism, be educated about it, or believe it is important. More than a decade after the study was done and published, the status quo remains. In other words, the findings of the study still hold even today. Related to the earlier point, more often than not, environmental stories rarely originate from diary assignments or press statements emailed or faxed to media houses, like political stories which normally fill the front pages of newspapers. Apart from coming up with story ideas, an environmental journalist needs to put in extra time and resources to write a better story that can catch the eye of the reader or attention of the viewer - let alone that of the editor. In fact, Friedman acknowledges that covering long-term issues in which the science is uncertain and keeps changing is not the media’s forte...“the media has serious problems covering long-term aspects of this issue...rarely did they tell people how much knowledge scientists lacked about some of the elements in the risk estimate equation.” This problem is compounded by the fact that many media houses do not even have permanent environmental journalists or writers specialised to cover science. However, some of the reasons why

environmental stories are shunned are of our own making as environmental journalists. Scholars say the reason why environmental stories rank low in the newsroom pecking order is because journalists covering the beat tend to stick to the traditional way of writing stories, that is, being beholden to the old-age news values of timeliness, proximity, prominence, consequence and conflict, hence, not giving themselves some flexibility room. In other words, journalists apply the same standards they do to environmental reporting that they do to politics, entertainment or even sports reporting.

Environmental stories rarely originate from diary assignments or press statements emailed or faxed to media houses. As a result of sticking to old traditions, environmental journalists end up doing more harm than good. This mistake results in, for example, misinterpretation of research results or omission of critical data in stories published or broadcasted. It is also partly the reason why environmental journalists have been unable to properly explain global issues like climate change, clean energy mechanism or global warming to the public. Due to such inadequacies, reporters are never ready to properly explain flip-flops in sciences findings, for example, which come with particular result today and totally contradictory finding the next day. Environmental journalists have also been criticised for using dominant traditional bureaucratic sources, mostly government officials who continue

shaping the agenda and shunning real people who understand issues like biotechnologists, climatologists and agronomists among others.

to ask sources. This must not be left to continue in media houses, since training and education is the solution to the problem.

However, reporters cannot be wholly blamed in this case, as it is also very difficult to secure interviews with the real experts, who are always busy or just outright stubborn.

It is also important that environmental journalists, who want to stand out above the rest, go beyond the realms of environment and get to learn about business, science or even politics. This is because decisions of powerful businessmen and politicians, for example, eventually affect the environment which we depend on in one way or the other.

So, what can be done to improve the situation and ensure environmental journalism takes its rightful place in not only in the newsroom but also in the newsstands and broadcast bulletins? First and foremost, environmental journalists need to train in science or spend time reading and understanding complex scientific topics like climate change, biotechnology, genetically modified organisms and agronomy among others. This is because environmental journalism, unlike others, often demands thorough background investigation, translation of technical terms or information, and consideration of larger issues like future consequences. Secondly, media houses need to initiate refresher courses and on-job training to broaden the knowledge and world-view of their journalists on environmental issues and how to communicate them effectively to the public. It is important that journalists are taught how to break down complex scientific issues by defining terms, providing examples and analogy in order to make them comprehensible to the target audience. This can help address the major challenge journalists face personally, which is the lack of education or background in environmental issues or science. In fact, due to the shallow grasp of environmental issues, there is always a high chance journalists might avoid substantive questions because they are unable to evaluate what they are told. Friedman, in one of his studies, found that some journalists could not interpret environmental pollution data and had

Environmental journalists need to train in science or spend time reading and understanding complex scientific topics like climate change. It also goes without saying that environmental journalists also need to change how they write by ensuring the stories are about the people and how it fits their daily environment. In other words, there is need to humanise the stories to make them competitive with other specialities like politics, crime and even business reporting. Lastly, powerful photographs or images on the environment can help in capturing readers and viewers’ attention and interests towards environmental issues. Remember, the old adage; a powerful picture is worth a thousand words. The writer is a former journalist with the Nation Media Group.

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Rules of thumb in disaster reporting

There are four stages in covering disasters: preparatory phase, getting to the scene, reporting stage and the aftermath. As LEVI OBONYO explains, journalists should prepare accordingly for every stage.


t is the nature of a disaster that it is abrupt. Too often, disasters do not come with warnings; although some evolve slowly. In cases where there is a warning, it may not provide sufficient lead time for adequate preparation. Disaster could come in the form of an oil tanker that rolls on the road and quickly catches fire leaving mayhem


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in its wake; an oil spill in the ocean; a famine that devastates an entire region; an earthquake; or even sudden floods. At home, we have been familiar with fires that erupt in slums leaving many people dead and families homeless. How does a newsroom, or a journalist prepare for this? Disaster is sudden, calamitous and disruptive occurrence that gravely interferes with the normal functioning of

a society or a community. It does cause grave strain to human life with serious effects on society’s resources and on the environment. It may take a society may years to recover. But in the case of some disasters, a society may never recover. It is difficult to get the environment back to normal once it has been destroyed. Most disasters happen too fast and there is hardly time to prepare for them. For instance, a fire outbreak may be abrupt catching everybody off-guard. This

has happened with greater frequency in slums. But there are other disasters that build slowly. For example, the case of famine may be different. It would start with a shortfall in rain, followed by harvest failures, and so observers could see it coming.

Breaking disaster has all the hallmarks of a good story: prominence, bloodiness, large scale occurrence, sometimes bizarre quality, proximity, impact, weight, controversy, emotions, unusualness, timeliness and currency among others. The government may be ill-prepared for the consequences. In some cases there may even be warnings of what is going to happen and pundits would have painted the grave picture that is likely to eventuate. In such cases, measures to mitigate it may have been taken, but there are other cases, particularly in Africa, where warnings may have not been heeded by agencies too absorbed with other matters. Unlike natural disasters that could occur suddenly, some manmade disaster could build slowly. It is noteworthy that the nature of the disaster would have an

impact on the necessary preparations for its coverage. Further, there is a difference in the longevity of disasters. Most are swift and society is left to unexpectedly deal with the consequences. Some, like the oil spills in the Americas may build slowly but with lasting consequences. It is particularly characteristic of environmental disasters that often change the nature of the environment completely. The Mau Forest in Kenya is a case in point. Human settlement slowly began to destroy the environment that then had deleterious consequences on the rainfall. It is generally too late by the time people wake up to its consequences. Hasty disasters lend themselves more closely to news coverage than disasters that build slowly. Breaking disaster has all the hallmarks of a good story: prominence, bloodiness, large scale occurrence, sometimes bizarre quality, proximity, impact, weight, controversy, emotions, unusualness, timeliness and currency among others. It will immediately draw the attention of the media. But media has a short attention span and quickly moves on to something else. There is a tendency to deploy war correspondents to cover disasters. But the two beats are different. While in the one case there are two sides engaged in the exchange of violence, similarities may only be limited to their results. Each of them leaves behind human devastation. There is probably no easy way to prepare to cover the unexpected disaster: the fire, the collapsed building, or the accident. It may have occurred at a time when most reporters are on off duty and the news desk is least staffed. Or it may take place when there are competing stories and the news desk is thinly spread. Or worse, it may take place just before the paper goes to bed or at the end of the

news cycle. In any of the cases, the editor is left with relatively limited human resources or time and would have to do with what is available. There are basically four stages to covering disaster: the preparatory stage, the getting to the scene stage, the reporting stage and the aftermath. Where possible, journalists should prepare for each of these stages meticulously. But the journalist is just part of the cogwheel since covering disaster, like most good reporting, is often a team thing. Media houses should have a manual on what to do in cases of disaster. When going to cover disaster, the media house is at the same time exposing its staff to danger. It has been said before that there is no story that is ever too important to risk losing lives for. No reporter should thus risk their lives for a story. There must be an assessment of how far a reporter could be sent. The reporter should have the basic equipment to work with. They should have insurance cover and have the necessary protective gear. It is important to note that in moments of pain and anguish the public could lose its cool and turn its ire against anybody including reporters. Where the public may have been pointing out the dangers and no remedial measures are taken, there is no telling how far public anger can turn and reporters may not be safe either. There is the second stage of getting to the scene. It may not be as easy as it may sound. The staff vehicle may only get a reporter so far beyond which it will be the ingenuity of the reporter to keep going and get to the theatre of the story. This is where a well networked reporter, with good sources, and with great personal qualities may have greater advantages. If the scene of the disaster has been condoned off then it may take personal chemistry and relations with emergency workers and security officials to get through to the frontline.

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A well networked reporter may get space in a chopper that is otherwise already full, may get to speak to senior officials who may unlock doors that would otherwise be shut. Classroom lectures without close observation of how others do it, and personal charisma, may not inculcate these qualities in a reporter. Today’s reporters may not be privy to how the pictures of a dying Tom Mboya were captured. Mohamed Amin did it by accompanying the bleeding Mboya to Nairobi hospital where the then minister for economic planning was pronounced dead on arrival. Such networks and relations could also prove useful for sending back footage and files that may be used in the next bulletin. A trusted pilot, driver or courier is invaluable to a reporter.

the disaster a soft face, a human angle. This means interviewing people, then standing back and letting them tell their story, enabling their voices to be heard. While there are the regular voices in the news story but this is the time to step back and let alternative actors feature. In the attack at Garissa University, the big guns from Nairobi quickly jumped onto their choppers and showed up on the scene to tell the story. But the story would be more authentic if it was primarily told by the people who were on the scene not those who are telling it second hand. It is during this stage that the teamwork of the newsroom ought to show clearly. One reporter alone may not have it all. The editor back in the newsroom may have a better picture of all the threads that lead to the story.

There is a tendency to deploy war correspondents to cover disasters.

The third stage of covering disaster is the actual reporting. But this raises a couple of questions: What is the immediate objective from a reporter’s point of view? Is it to tell the story or to provide information that may be of assistance to the public?

Then there is the last stage when the lights have been turned off and the cameras packed. The floods may be gone, the fire may be out, and government officials would have come and left.

What are the questions that the audience out there is asking? Is it: What happened? What help is coming? Where can we find assistance? Who caused this? Journalists have been drilled on the 5W+H but do these apply in every case?

The victims may have not gone away and the dangers from the disaster may still be so real. It is the nature of officialdom to relax once the torchlight of reporters has been switched off. The victims feel abandoned their anger against journalists heightened.

Yes, the story must be told, but without getting on the way. It is important to give

At this stage, most of the victims could very well feel used. The reporters came


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only to raise the circulation or the ratings and once a better story showed up they moved on. How does a reporter keep the story alive? This is the time for analysis, for in depth reporting, for asking what went wrong? The two types of disasters pose different reporting challenges. Whereas the sudden disaster, like the tsunami, will quickly grab the headlines, the slow one often takes time and it is a challenge trying to interest the newsroom and even the audience in the story. How do you convince the audience, for example, that settling in the forest could have dangerous consequences later on? It is almost as if in the case of slow building disasters that the roles of reporting are reversed. It starts with the lights turned off, people slowly creeping into the forests and are not willing to come out. Or the rains failing but people still have food, then the harvest failing, but the necessary agencies are not responding, finally devastating famine visits the land and there are bodies everywhere. This stage requires an experienced reporter with specialisation in that beat to bring out the nuances of the story that are not readily visible. Good reporting here can change lives. Prof Levi Obonyo is the Dean, School of Communication, Language and Performing Arts, Daystar University. He is also a member of the Editorial Board of The Media Observer.

Man walks on a flooded field. Media should focus more on environmental stories for policy makers to act and stop further degradation.

Why environmental reporting is not for the fainthearted As KIUNDU WAWERU argues, it takes resilience and determination to deliver science and environment stories in today’s newsrooms where editorial managers and other decision makers openly show preference for hard political stories.


eavy rains started pounding the country in November. Having dismissed the weatherman as a false prophet, that he rung a wrong death knell, everyone was caught unawares, including the media. Then followed fire fighting, telling El Nino stories when it was apparent that

indeed, the phenomenon that warms the Pacific Ocean causing weather variations even in far off regions like Kenya is here, and projected to be bigger than the 1997 El Nino. One television station one day in November had a wire story on a well done story on how El Nino was expected to affect different regions in Africa. In subsequent days, every media house

started having daily segments, mostly reportage on the havoc caused by heavy rains. Yes, at last, an important climate story deserving of acres of media space. This is indeed a global trend where an environmental story becomes important following a disaster like a tsunami, earthquakes or other extreme weather conditions. Oct - Dec • 2015


Laura Dattaro, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, says while there’s an increase in environmental journalism, it is inconsistent. And a 2013 report by Improved Environmental Coverage found out that environment stories make just one per cent of headlines in the US. “Crime, politics and poverty is all around you,” says Mr Bernard Mwinzi, a features editor with The Daily Nation, “most environment stories on climate change, droughts, El Nino are a hit and miss affair, most times taking a dramatic angle on a looming disaster or following a disaster.” See, in most newsrooms, features; especially on science and environment are seen not to be ‘sexy’, and as Mwinzi intimates, not only by editors but also by the reporters who are not on a dedicated science beat. Politics and the daily beat, courts, the county assembly are the beautiful bride. Only special pullouts like the Daily Nation’s DN2 will come to your rescue. The Standard used to have Panorama, a pullout dedicated to science and health, which folded, and also The Standard Extra, a daily features pages which also ‘died.’ It is indeed becoming increasingly difficult for print journalists to find enough space to tell science and environment stories, because newsrooms are undergoing tough times in the process reducing pagination.

weeks; they are a bunch of idlers.” Like every organ in the body has its own unique role, whose breakdown will mean dysfunction of the whole, even the departments in the newsroom work independently, but for the benefit of all. However, there is a subtle enmity between the reporters on the daily beat who feel that having to burn more than one copy daily is tougher, than a specialised writer researching on one or two stories in several days.

See, in most newsrooms, features; especially on science and environment are seen not to be ‘sexy’ It also happens at a higher level. In the newsroom, there are planning meetings for various desks, especially for features, special projects and weekend papers. As a feature writer specialising on development stories, in health, science and environment, you never fail to get amused. You give an idea on climate change, an important topic that even the Pope is passionate about, and how it’s affecting a particular farming community.

It is even worse elsewhere, as Dattaro puts it: “In 2008, CNN cut its entire science tech, and environment desk, followed by the New York Times in 2013 which cancelled its Green blog and dismantled a nine-person environmental team...” In the meantime, locally the features writer is fighting for relevance in the newsroom.

Good, you are told. But do you have another story idea?

“Ati environment journalists,” one reporter who burns about three news stories daily once exclaimed, “they only do one story a week, maybe in two

Interesting, you are told. Then awkward silence, no one is giving you eye contact. Then, an editor tells you that as you pursue those, also think about a splash.


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Confidently you go: “The Millennium Development Goals are ending this year. I want to look at how our country has fared in relation to the environment as the world adopts the Sustainable Development Goals.”

To the uninitiated, a splash is the headline story. In other words, your development story cannot make it to the front page. Sarah Wild, a science author and journalist with the Mail & Guardian, South Africa and whose story, Robot to test health of ocean ‘lungs’ won a 2015 CNN African Journalist Award, says even in her country, getting a science-based splash is not easy. Woe unto a dedicated journalist on the environment beat. Even the driver will give you a cold shoulder. Sii hiyo story si ya kesho? Ngoja gari, zote zimeenda news (I know that story will not run tomorrow. It can wait. The vehicles available are helping in covering news). You are left to your own wits and determination to bring the story to life. Mind you, even for a feature, you have tight deadlines to meet. In most cases, telling an environmental story will take more than one day to gather the information alone. Not many newsrooms will advance you a vehicle, a photographer or cameraman for more than a day. You will use public transport, and do not expect a refund. After gathering the information, you sit down in the newsroom to burn the copy. You will be there for a long time, making sense of science data, expert interviews, at the same time making the copy palatable for the layman. “Excuse me Kiundu,” a news editor calls from the other corner, “I have not seen your by-line this week, and today I see you just seated there, I was wondering are you busy?” Here, the editor either wants to send you to a press conference, or maybe give you a press release for ‘processing.’ It is a hard job, I tell you. Worse if you are a correspondent. But away from the newsroom, other factors contribute to make the life of an environment reporter a nightmare. Agatha Ngotho, who writes on agriculture and environment for The Star, says sometimes sources come

covered in self-interest. “Especially, say, on the GMO issue,” she says, “you find that the sources want to sell their own agenda. It is important for journalists to be able to differentiate between credible, objective sources and reports from people serving their own interests.” On the same note, Ngotho is glad that The Star has dedicated pages on environment on Fridays. The onus is now on journalists who also are not without blame. “Most of us have become armchair journalists; you cannot tell an environment story from the newsroom or press releases, you have to get to where the action is.” Ngotho feels that also, overall investigative stories on environment are missing. This could be the link between a drab story and a ‘sexy’ human interest story. And even as Mwinzi acknowledges that environment stories are not sexy to both editors and writers and the audience, Brygettes Ngana, an NTV reporter based in Nakuru says it calls for passion to be

able to specialise on this beat; patience and gift and skill to be able to decipher complex science in an everyday language.

Woe unto a dedicated journalist on the environment beat. Even the driver will give you a cold shoulder. “Not many people realise that conserving the environment is not about us, it is about the future generations,” says Ngana who though on the general beat, would like to specialise on environment. Meantime, her reading menu contains books and materials many won’t touch, literature on the planet from the Arctic to Antarctica.

activities. MESHA has a network of likeminded, science journalists and it links them with scientists, who most times are unwilling to speak with the media. Upcoming journalists will find such platforms increasingly helpful, including seeking trainings and workshops and also personal efforts to talk with journalists like The Standard’s Joy Wanja and Gatonye Gathura who have gone against the grain to command respect as science journalists. In the Kenyan media, you will realise, only personal ambition, dedication and drive will give you headway, and even the ‘stubborn’ of editors will at least find the time to go through your science story, and in a worst case scenario, explain why it has to die. Mr Kiundu Waweru is an independent journalist. He previously reported for the Standard Newspaper.

And to sharpen her skills, Ngotho takes part in the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA)

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Ethics and Disaster: Just how far is too far?

During environmental disasters, there is usually suffering that humans go through but in the presentation of the story, how sensitive should journalists be to the dignity of the people going through trauma? JOE KADHI explores this ethical question.


oing by what is reported in the media in Kenya today, anyone visiting this country would find it hard to believe we have just experienced one of the worst natural disasters or, in some parts, still going through various traumatic periods caused by El Nino. None of the human suffering that goes with natural disasters of that caliber were overdramatised by the four local national dailies or TV stations. Is the


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reason for this professional precision caused by the Media Council of Kenya through its supervisory and monitoring duties or is it caused by the practitioners’ and their editors’ adherence to ethical principles in the coverage of natural disasters? As early as in mid-June this year, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Authorities together with the Kenya Meteorological Department issued a press release in which they warned that this year’s short rains which normally occur between

October and December were likely to be enhanced in most parts of the country, with varied levels of impacts in the socio-economic sectors. The press release also indicated that in some parts of the country, the rains would continue into early next year. Much of the country was therefore likely to experience rainfall that would cause flooding. Any well-organised newsroom would establish a contingent of reporters and photographers to deal with the situation

as and when it comes and during the briefing and debriefing of the team, ethical issues would definitely be part of the instructions the team would have to observe. Any good editor would make use of such a situation to remind his or her team of what Michel Prieur says in his “Ethical Principles on Disaster - Risk Reduction and People’s Resilience”. According to this highly respected authority on environmental law, disasters pose a major threat not only to the survival of populations and societies as a whole, but also to the dignity and safety of individuals and to the preservation of the natural, cultural and environmental heritage. He reminds us that most of the time, the disorganisation disasters cause to society results in serious infringements of the entire range of human rights. According to him, various consequences affecting human life, safety, dignity, property, cultural heritage, the environment and sustainable development result from all those events. He very strongly believes that the vulnerability of individuals, communities and the environment is a major factor in exposure to disaster risks which limits resilience. He suggests these risks do not affect everybody in the same way. Poor people and socially disadvantaged groups, he reminds us, are the most exposed. Yet the most fragile people are often not given priority in prevention strategies or operational manuals, despite quite clearly being the most vulnerable. In all disasters, there is certainly a certain amount of suffering that human beings go through; but in the presentation of that story how sensitive should the journalists be to the dignity of the people going through trauma? What constitute news here is governed by the human interest as a news value which, in this case, would include oddities, selfinterest, adventure and prominence. As the people of Budalangi, for example, go for days without shelter because

their homes have been flooded, there will be stories of very many odd things happening. Pictures of children carrying their pets to save them from drowning; or of old farmers carrying their donkeys instead of the donkeys carrying them will be in plenty for the editors to choose from. But while doing so the ethical principle of obscenity, taste and tone in reporting comes in handy to make sure whatever pictures are chosen for publication will not be in bad taste and will not be obscene.

Disasters pose a major threat not only to the survival of populations and societies as a whole, but also to the dignity and safety of individuals and to the preservation of the natural, cultural and environmental heritage. If the story in Budalangi is followed up in great details, there certainly will be some adventures worth reporting in the form of a human interest point of view. This may simply be the story of a hero who saves a baby during the floods. The news value of prominence would come in if some rich politicians philanthropically come in with the assistance of food, boats and tents for the victims. A bright editor would not fail to guide his or her teams to get all stories from any natural disaster. But among the stories there will probably be some very sad ones that will be too demeaning to the victims to be published. If for example among the pictures are

some showing old people wading through water while half naked or some pictures of floating dead bodies or carcasses of animals, it would certainly be most unprofessional from an ethical point of view to publish such pictures. Writing about them, however, can be accepted provided the journalist does not get too descriptive to an extent that the picture of words that is painted is abhorrent. The coverage of environmental disasters becomes even more challenging when issues of human rights crop up. In America where there have been environmental disasters, this phenomenon was noticed to such an extent that some NGOs had to step in. A guideline was published which would be extremely useful for journalists in Kenya. Published by Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, the guideline titled “Human Rights and Natural Disasters” says that traditionally, natural disasters have been seen as situations that create challenges and problems mainly of a humanitarian nature. However, increasingly, it has come to be recognised that human rights protection also needs to be provided in these contexts. The guidelines say that the tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes, which hit parts of Asia and the Americas in 2004/2005, highlighted the need to be attentive to the multiple human rights challenges victims of such disasters may face. All too often, it elaborates, the human rights of disaster victims are not sufficiently taken into account. It reveals that unequal access to assistance, discrimination in aid provision, enforced relocation, sexual and gender-based violence, loss of documentation, unsafe or involuntary return or resettlement, and issues of property restitution are just some of the problems that are often encountered by those affected by the consequences of natural disasters. Looked at superficially, these may sound as problems very unfamiliar to the

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Kenyan situation. But it is not difficult at all to imagine natural disasters taking place in an area where development in this country has flourished and where quite affluent members of our society live. If those areas were affected by any form of natural disaster caused by climate change; the response by the authorities would probably be very different from the response we see taking place where these disasters create thousands of victims within a very short time. If this kind of discrimination takes place and it is not highlighted, it would be the very height of unethical journalism.

They suggest that with a number of extreme weather events hitting headlines in recent years, establishing the link to climate change has become a pressing, and political, concern. But, they argue, climate change and its impacts are scientific questions of great complexity, so simple answers are not to be expected. Understanding what science can establish is ever more important – especially if political decisions are to be based on it.

In a paper prepared for European Parliament titled “Climate Change and Natural Disasters: Scientific evidence of a possible relation between recent natural disasters and climate change.” The two scientists say while climate science is immensely complex and uncertainties inevitable, there is convincing evidence that changes in the earth’s climate are taking place that cannot be explained without taking into account human influence through the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Though the debate about whether or not climate change is caused by man has not really come to Kenya, journalists covering environmental issues ought to be familiar with this debate.

Is climate change actually man made and what is the role of the media in making the people know the truth?

The ethical principle of accuracy and fairness demands that journalists get to the truth of the story and tell it as it is no matter what the consequences may be. Talking about the truth and man-made


climate change brings in the most difficult part of the coverage of the whole debate. Is climate change actually man made and what is the role of the media in making the people know the truth? This matter is discussed by two scholars Jason Anderson, who works at Climate Action Network Europe in Brussels and Camilla Bausch who is the Director of Ecologic Institute Berlin.

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Joe Kadhi is a former Managing Editor of the Daily Nation who taught journalism at the University of Nairobi, Addis Ababa University and the United States International University from where he has just retired. He is also the Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Media Observer.

Woman draws water from a dilapidated spring. Water catchment areas are at risk due to man-made activities like logging and charcoal burning.

Why media has only ‘scratched the surface’

As JANE GODIA writes, there is underreporting of environmental issues primarily because they don’t generate ‘sexy’ stories and don’t bring in the money to news organisations.


hen Ms Jane Adika of Nyando, Kisumu County, first appeared on television news pleading for government assistance in the aftermath of floods, many took it for granted. Soon, year after year, whenever the long rains started, journalists would seek her out just to have her ask the government

to come out to help. Adika’s case was taken as a joke and her words “Sirkali saidia” soon became a ringtone on many cellphones. However, even as the media sought out Adika, now nick-named Mama Sirkali Saidia, they never realised that she was actually the face of many Kenyans in Kisumu and other counties who were victims of the floods. While Adika had made a name for herself when she sought help, others who suffered similar fate had not. What of the Turkana woman who faced

a jail sentence for the simple fact that she prepared a dog for her children to eat because she had lost three others to drought? Journalists wrote a hard news story of how the woman faced a jail term, not even questioning why relief food was not provided to her and others who suffered from food insecurity due to prolonged drought. Environmental disasters that affect Kenyans range from floods to prolonged drought and mudslides. Yet when Oct - Dec • 2015


journalists report about them, they only scratch the surface. Kenyan journalists have failed to note in their stories that in the face of any impeding or already happening environmental disaster, loss of human security is a glaring force that should never be ignored.

Adika’s case was taken as a joke and her words “Sirkali saidia” soon became a ringtone on many cellphones. Deborah Potter and Sherry Richiardi in Disaster and Crisis Coverage define disaster as a critical event that alters the regular order of things. When the rains are higher than normal; when drought is too prolonged with temperatures being too high; when homes are at higher risk of landslides due to soils caving in, all these are environmental disasters because they alter the regular order of things. So when government warns that the country will experience El Nino rains, it means that the regular order of things will change. So how does the media report on this? The media is expected to be analytical, giving a deeper understanding to the public so that they can mitigate the damage expected to a minimum. It’s at times like these that the social protection the government is supposed to provide in times of vulnerability must be seen to happen and as the Fourth Estate, the media must hold the government to account. For instance, the current El Nino rains which are expected to go on until 2016 are already wreaking havoc. Yet, as journalists, we all know that huge sums of money were set aside for mitigating El Nino effects. However, has the media made an effort to find out if the money


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was put to rightful use or if it went into individuals’ pockets? This is the one million dollar question that journalists must answer in their reportage. They should also break down complex realities of such environmental disasters to create public understanding of the phenomena. This year, the national government set aside Sh3.6 billion, county governments earmarked Sh6.6 billion while development partners gave Sh2.6 billion towards El Nino mitigation. The media has been reporting on families and livestock that have been washed away without questioning how the money is being spent and if things had been done correctly so that losses would have been averted. When people are told to move to higher grounds due to impending floods, where does the government expect these families to go? All the media does is to report that people have been asked to move to higher grounds without interrogating what this means even in terms of logistics. Yet the Department of National Disasters says it’s mandated to provide temporary shelters in the face of natural disasters, including those that are environmental. From what is seen of the survivors and victims of the disasters, this information seems to be only available to the department itself. However, the sad reality about most environmental disasters is that mostly, it’s the poor who are greatly affected. It’s the poor who do not have options to suggestions by the government and state administration such as moving to higher grounds. It’s the poor who live in temporary houses that are washed away; It’s the poor who live in areas that are most vulnerable to environmental disasters; It’s the poor who will be cut off, who will lose their accommodation and security and suffer health consequences of the environmental disasters. Unfortunately when journalists report

on these, they do not question those responsible for social protection of communities. They only do hard news reportage from press conferences which hardly help in creating public awareness. In Kenya between 1991 and 2006, there were five national disasters that were declared by government. Why can’t the media analyse and give a background based on the national disasters of 19921993; 1996-1997; 1999-2001; and 20052007 which were all due to prolonged drought and the 1997-1998 one when there were the El Nino-related floods? Deborah Potter and Sherry Richiardi in Disaster and Crisis Coverage note that the first role of a newsroom leader in disaster situations is to manage people and information in the field and in the newsroom. They say when reporting on disaster, journalists need to be clear, accurate and compassionate without inflaming the situation or causing additional stress or panic.

What of the Turkana woman who faced a jail sentence for the simple fact that she prepared a dog for her children to eat because she had lost three others to drought? In Kenya, we have tended to see more of underreporting of environmental issues and concerns simply because they are not seen as ‘sexy’ in newsrooms for the mere fact that they don’t bring in the money. In reporting environmental disasters, therefore, editors must ensure they give detailed briefs to reporters. Journalists

should not just scratch the surface but address the challenges through analytical reportage. As UNESCO says, analytical journalism is a means of promoting social dialogue, democracy and development. Environmental disasters are a matter of development. Analytical journalism is critical thinking that is important for social, economic and cultural development because it brings out what cannot be seen through scratch the surface reporting. Analytical journalism enables journalists to do a proper evaluation of an issue. If for instance the country has experienced environmental disasters in the past, an

analytical presentation of an impending disaster will not only inform, but will also educate and create better public awareness that will make a difference and avert not only deaths but also damage to property. In their analysis, therefore, journalists must highlight the most appropriate mitigation measures and how families will be saved from losses that include deaths. Accuracy, fairness and transparency remain the good pillars of journalism because they are the foundation of objectivity. It’s also important to note that commercialisation of newsrooms must be put behind everything else when it comes to reporting disasters.

It remains important to have all causes and remedies including traditional indigenous knowledge in dealing with environmental disasters included in the stories. Only then will the media claim to have succeeded in accurately and objectively reporting environmental disasters. Jane Godia is a Gender and Media Expert and serves as Managing Editor at African Woman and Child Feature Services (AWCFS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of the Media Observer.

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Newsroom bias signals need for change in strategy

Newspapers shy away from environmental reporting for the imaginary reasons that it is not interesting and does not attract advertisers. But as MARTHA MBUGGUSS argues, this school of thought does not hold water and should be mitigated by change of strategy.


n his right hand is an open umbrella covering his head from the scorching hot sun. The umbrella is branded with a message: “The future is now”. In the left hand is a piece of meat stuck on a long stick thrust out to be roasted by the sun. Smoke from the sizzling meat can be seen rising towards


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the sun. A comment just below the roasting stick is quite telling. “Who needs an oven these days?” it reads. At a first glance, the cartoon is quite tickling. A second look at it is, however, thought provoking. The message warrants serious consideration. It is about climate change, a very current concern related to environmental degradation.

One may not belabour the importance of environmental protection considering that the environment is closely related to important aspects of life such as good health, higher sustainable productivity be it in agriculture and/or industrial, and poverty reduction. Indeed, the entire development and survival of human life is tied up to the environment. The media would easily help promote

environmental awareness as well as environmental - friendly attitudes, practices and behaviours. The big question is; has the media been playing an important role in environmental education? My gut answer would be a big “No, thanks.” To the contrary, the media tends to shy away from covering environmental issues.

The entire development and survival of human life is tied up to the environment In the 1990s, I carried out a content analysis of coverage of environmental issues by The Daily Nation and The Standard newspapers for my Master of Arts Degree studies. The study was based on the premise that the mass media plays a major role in attracting attention to certain issues and sets the public agenda towards such issues. The timing of the study was informed by one of the then biggest environmental happening which was the Rio de Janeiro United Nations Conference on Environment held in 1992. The study was also informed by the then fierce battle between the then ruling party Kanu and environmentalist Prof Wangari Maathai. The battle started when the then government of Kenya announced it was going to build a 60 storey complex at Uhuru Park. The building was supposed to become the tallest in Africa. Prof Maathai responded through the media and other outlets by describing the move as a disastrous loss to the environment-conscious city residents (Nation, October 6, 1989:4). She appealed to the authorities to stop the impending construction. The battle was taken up by the highest office in the land and the then President Daniel Moi ordered the critics of the construction to shut up. The acrimonious battle ended

up in court and lasted for two years. The matter ended in 1992. The purpose of the study was to find out the importance and prominence given to environmental issues by the two Kenyan dailies between 1991 and 1993. Using a content analysis that covered a total of 2,190 newspaper copies, the study looked at various subjects that are manmade and which human beings can solve if they choose to, namely air pollution, water pollution, land pollution, garbage waste, industrial accidents, tourism and wildlife, deforestation, afforestation and soil erosion. Some of the findings of the study were not only surprising but also disappointing. The most shocking one was that the coverage of environmental issues actually continued to decrease from 1991 to 1993. The coverage in the two dailies dropped from 751 articles in 1991 to 685 articles in 1992 and 605 in 1993.

The media was therefore ignoring more critical concerns like the safety of land, air and waters upon which the citizens depend on. The other finding was that the coverage given to the environment was not broad enough and mainly concentrated on one subject, tourism and wildlife, mostly because of the profit component attached to tourism. The media was therefore ignoring more critical concerns like the safety of land, air and waters upon which the citizens depend on. The third finding was that environmental coverage was not given much prominence and was mostly tucked in

the inside pages and not on the front or editorial pages. Most of the stories were straight news, especially when there were disasters or tied up to political utterances. The said articles were hardly illustrated. Although straight news stories play a part in attracting attention to an issue, they are often short, not detailed and are usually forgotten shortly after the event covered. For the purpose of agenda setting it would be important for the media to carry longer, more detailed articles like features and special reports and cover them more frequently. Publishing un-illustrated stories drastically diminishes the stories’ power to attract readers’ attention and set an agenda. The media practitioners were therefore doing a disservice to environmental coverage by carrying short and un-illustrated stories . Another disappointing finding was that the dailies were more reactive than proactive in their coverage. The coverage was often event-oriented, the issues covered were mostly ecological in nature touching on disasters as they happened without encouraging any preventative measures or educating readers about environmental protection. In short, the dailies were not therefore fulfilling their role as agenda setters. In a forward march to the present day, the media could be said to maintain the status quo. The coverage of the ElNino rains, for example, is about how many deaths have occurred as a result of ensuing floods, the flooded roads, people stuck in traffic jams etc. Many questions continue to ring in our heads. Why are we having flooded roads when the warning bells of the coming El Nino rains have been ringing for so long. Where is the El Nino mitigation money the government set aside? What are the 47 counties doing to safeguard life? Who is bothered about the garbage heaps that are left unattended all over the country especially in the capital city?

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Where does the garbage go during the heavy rains especially when that garbage comprises of stuff like plastic paper? What should the bodies entrusted with environmental safety be doing? Can the journalists help us to wake them up from their deep slumber? Are there specific actions individual citizens can do to mitigate the situation? All the above questions are occurring in a land that houses the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which could be accused of sleeping on the job especially considering the body’s loud silence in the ongoing El Nino chaos. But to its credit and in an effort to help journalists cover the environment, UNEP published a book titled Environmental Reporting For African Journalists: A Handbook of Key Environmental Issues and Concepts (2006). In handbook’s preface, Cristina Boelcke acknowledges that environmental information is like a journey whereby the travellers might not always tell


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what is in the next corner. In short, the environment sometimes accords human beings many uncertainties. In that journey, UNEP was established to provide leadership, encourage partnership in caring for the environment, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generation. That powerful sounding mission of the UNEP can be made real in Kenya by having local journalists trained on environmental coverage in a customised manner. It is true that UNEP has in the past supported such training but could go further and lobby dailies to provide more space to environmental issues. The local dailies are normally said to shy away from environmental reporting for the imaginary reasons that it is not interesting, does not attract huge readership and may not attract advertisers. The arguments do

not necessarily hold water and can be mitigated by proper training. Encouraging investigative reporting on such environmental issues like industrial waste and pollution could be another plus for the media. Media houses often shy off from investigative reporting because it is expensive and costly. The very many bodies that are related to the environment including UNEP and governmental bodies should be willing to partner with the media to make investigative reporting a possibility. The media should consider such contribution to environmental conservation as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. Dr. Martha Mbugguss is of Mass Communication Nazarene University and of the Editorial Board of Observer.

a lecturer at Africa a member the Media

Social media in times of disasters

While media houses should not abdicate their roles to social media, they should ethically take advantage of its value and strength in breaking disaster news and mobilising help. JAMES RATEMO looks at how instrumental the new media platforms are in emergency situations.


he 2015 ElNino rains and other natural disasters in Kenya have considerably taught the local media how important it is to use social media channels in reaching out to the masses. In a world of increasing inter connectedness between individuals and companies across the globe, social media continues to evolve and play a larger role in day-to-day life. Using social media to warn, educate and inform masses on how to keep safe or mitigate disasters cannot be belabored.

The new media platform is especially critical during disasters when access to other traditional media platforms like newspapers, TV and radio is limited. If the media does not break the news first, citizen journalists will break it their own way and might even spread erroneous information because they are not bound by media ethics. With the rising popularity of mobile phones and by extension social media, citizens are always keep informed on events in their neighborhood and this helps avert disasters. During an emergency, social media pages by mainstream media can act

as “clearing-houseâ€? by providing upto-date information from various organisations mitigating disasters in a region. This is because media is often trusted since they are associated with verified information. Again, the mainstream media are better placed to endorse or dismiss information from citizens. Increasingly, people who respond to disasters are finding social media indispensable as it goes far beyond reassuring loved ones in disasters. Emergency workers and volunteers use social media to find people in need, map damaged areas, organise relief efforts, Oct - Dec • 2015


disseminate news and guidance, attract donations, and help prepare for future disasters. Likewise, the mainstream media should complement efforts of emergency teams in spreading the message on availability of aid or warn people on impeding disasters, closed or blocked roads and rescue efforts.

The new media platform is especially critical during disasters when access to other traditional media platforms like newspapers, TV and radio is limited. Social media is not only powerful for breaking disaster news but also for mobilising help. In mobilising people to help disaster victims, media houses and journalists appear more credible than random citizens coming out to ask for help online. Kenyans for Kenya is one initiative best remembered because of how effective it was. It was started in July 2011 under the Kenya Red Cross to raise funds for famine victims in Turkana. One factor that contributed to the initiative’s success is the fact that media houses, media personalities and journalists supported it not only physically, but even on social media.


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When a deadly temblor rocked Nepal on May 12, 2015, writes Laird Harrison, a lady named Dr Miriam Aschkenasy was in a medical tent, trying to help some of the 22,000 people injured in the earthquake that devastated the country only 2 weeks earlier. After the shaking stopped, Dr Aschkenasy grabbed her phone. But she quickly realised she had no time to personally reassure everyone she knew. So after making one call to her husband and one to her mother, she clicked the Safety Check button on Facebook. Her friends instantly learned that she was safe. “When you only have a few minutes of Internet and you need to get a message out to a lot of people at once, that’s a great way to do it,” says Dr Aschkenasy, an emergency medicine physician and deputy director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Global Disaster Response team. This is exactly the scenario mainstream media may find themselves. Sometimes some information is required out there so fast that packaging it for print, radio or television may be a waste of time or it may end up delaying the message. Take an instance where a landslide has cut off a road and emergency response teams or eyewitnesses have confirmed that through calling the police or even newsrooms. With such urgent information in their hands, editors and journalists should disseminate it fast to avert tragedies. In disaster situations, radio or TV broadcasts may not be fast enough and it requires a boost from the social media to ensure instant and wide reach.

Kevin Sur, an instructor at the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center hosted by the University of Hawaii, says during a disaster, traditional communication systems become overloaded and tend to fail but mobile communications - including social media - remain viable platforms because of the small amount of data needed to communicate.

Social media is not only powerful for breaking disaster news but also for mobilising help. I, however, agree with Mr Peter Mwaura, who recently wrote in his weekly column in the Daily Nation that it is sometimes dangerous for news consumers as well as news organisations to rely on social media for news. Mr Mwaura was referring to the Mandera mass graves saga that, for almost a whole week, had grabbed headlines. According to him, rumours propagated by politicians and given credence by the media that mass graves had been found in Mandera turned out to be a lie. Only the body of a woman linked to Al-Shabaab was found in the so-called “mass grave”. Mwaura argues the story of the mass graves was first published in the social media by citizens. “The Mandera mass graves story also shows that the growth of social media,

such as Twitter and Facebook, has changed the way Kenyans and other people in the world consume news. It has also changed the way the traditional media covers the news, especially news of conflict and tragedy in society,” writes Mwaura.

critical in spreading the warning to the audience. Unlike the offline platforms like radio, TV and newspapers, the internet becomes a repository of preparedness messages that can be accessed anytime via mobile phones.

“Social media has no professional codes or ethics. In particular, the old journalistic values of accuracy and objectivity do not apply in social media. As traditional media tries not to be overtaken by social media, it must at the same time retain what distinguishes it from the new media: The values of accuracy and objectivity,” he adds.

The media can utilise its wide reach on the social media to educate its audiences on mitigating disasters, responding to emergencies and in aiding recovery after the damage.

I concur with Mr Mwaura that “when something is viral, it must be evaluated for substance and veracity and professional journalists must not abdicate their responsibility to citizen journalists, tweeters, and bloggers.” It is true that disaster times are associated with heightened search for information online and not from the traditional media outlets. This is because disasters disrupt communication lines meaning often, it is even impossible to watch or read news via mainstream media platforms. In the disaster cycle, the media can play a critical role to prevent, avert or mitigate effects. In the Kenyan scenario after the weather men announced that El-Nino rains were around the corner, the media was

In disaster situations, radio or TV broadcasts may not be fast enough and it requires a boost from the social media to ensure instant and wide reach. Professional relief agencies are not alone in harnessing social media in disasters. Social media can help ordinary people step in if emergency response teams are overwhelmed, as they were after the Nepal earthquake. In disaster situations, the media should monitor social media around the clock

and collaborate with response teams to dispel rumors and misinformation. Social media is also key in providing the affected people with emergency shelter information, finding missing people, reuniting people, and giving directions on where to receive medical attention, what areas to stay away from, food, water distribution details and where to receive medical attention. With anticipated increase of online traffic as people search for information, media organisations should ensure they are the go-to sites for up-to-date, accurate information. That way, media have opportunity to monetize the increased website traffic besides enabling audiences to access emergency evacuation orders and other updates from authorities. However, it is key to validate all sources and information by checking every group or person offering help before posting or retweeting. Gone are the days of one-way communication where only official sources provided bulletins on disaster news. Today, citizens have joined the fray and the media needs to put up with the changing trends and follow audiences online. James Ratemo is a veteran journalist, media trainer and editor. He is the current Head of Communication at the Media Council of Kenya.

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Dilemma of dealing with ethical misconduct

As CHURCHILL OTIENO argues, public interest should be the motivation in pursuing stories but when selfish interests by sources, owners and journalists take centre stage, journalism loses meaning.


n all Kenyan newsrooms, stories abound of ethical infractions. I recently travelled out of Nairobi and in chatting up with local correspondents from various media houses, heard how they still rely on politicians for logistics. A colleague who had travelled from Kisumu told of how at the lakeshore city, matters have deteriorated so much that an official of an NGO recently had to contend with menacing demands for money. In the national newsrooms, I know of a journalist who plagiarised an editorial and another who cut corners on verification when handling a piece for social media. In the national cases that stand out the journalists involved


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actually ended up losing their jobs. At the executive level, I know of media owners whose other interests are protected from media scrutiny by their outlets, and advertisers who “strategically” book and unbook commercials. And of course much higher in government, we recently saw CNN on bended knees in a development that will come back to haunt the local press following #SomeoneTellCNN on the eve to the President Barack Obama’s homecoming to Kenya. A newsroom is an interesting place. It’s a true melting pot of life. Journalists not only chronicle life, they live it too. It is also more often a high pressure place, with unnegotiable deadlines and mean bosses. In this scenario, with little time and low budgets, many take short cuts and ethics suffer.

Of all the communications disciplines, journalism is where adherence to ethics is more central to the existence of the profession. Many can communicate well, but it only becomes journalism if public interest is adopted as the key motivation, and this in turn is only guaranteed by an ethical conduct. There are many definitions of journalism. But I like the version by the New York News Publishers Association that says it is the investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends of all topics that is verifiable, independent, impartial, and accountable to the public. We can write well, ask good questions, have a commanding voice on radio, be blessed with a powerful television presence, be adept at blogging and whatever, but it is never journalism until acting in utmost good faith for the public

interest is embraced as the core pillar. It is this philosophical orientation that recently led editors at The Economist, after news broke that their owners – Pearson - were selling off to pen one of the boldest commitment to independent journalism that I have read in a long time. In it, they basically swore to stand up to their shareholders if journalism demanded it. Here is a portion:

I know of a journalist who plagiarised an editorial and another who cut corners on verification when handling a piece for social media. “A change in ownership is an important event for any newspaper, even The Economist, whose editorial independence is absolute and is fiercely guarded by four independent trustees. We are confident that this transaction, which is subject to the approval of our shareholders and is only the second significant change of ownership in our 172-year history, will serve this newspaper and its readers well. A responsible and engaged minority shareholder will increase its stake; The Economist Group has used its strong balance-sheet to reinforce the company’s commercial independence. New safeguards are being drawn up to place extra limits on the influence of any individual shareholder and to allow us to raise more equity capital should we wish to do so. At a time when truly independent journalism is all too rare and often under threat, we are strengthening ours—and, in doing so, are improving our ability to serve our readers in the future.” You can read the full piece here: http://tinyurl. com/pnxrh5g

The nexus between media ownership and an ethical newsroom is a critical one. It is ownership that allows or disallows political, commercial and shareholder interference in the newsroom. And it is how far this is allowed or disallowed that fosters allegiance to ethical practice. Dr Rushworth Kidder of the Institute for Global Ethics tells us that “ethics is obedience to the unenforceable. Therefore, it is up to journalists themselves – not governments or outside authorities –to set the standards for their profession.” Often, there is a difference between ethics and the law. While ethics is seen more as an inner force – a moral radar informed by a set of values - that directs behaviour, the law is usually more defined and enforced. However, in Kenya, journalism ethics are actually part of the written law. They are captured in written law as the second schedule of the Media Council Act (2013). This framework, of ethics as law, is itself a matter of much debate especially by those who believe the state has no role in regulating journalism, but that is for another day.

It is up to journalists themselves – not governments or outside authorities – to set the standards for their profession.” In conclusion, four things stand out for in our journey to make Kenyan journalism more ethical. First, guidance from senior colleagues must be more forthright, by advice and by example. That is the one legacy senior journalists owe their younger colleagues for the sake of the profession.

policies/guidelines, oft repeated and frequently updated. What values does the newsroom stand for? Research shows that people are more confident in their actions where the lines are clearly demarcated. And confidence in the newsroom leads to bold but careful journalism, which is good for the growth of our society.

What happens when a newsroom cannot afford transport for all its journalists, should the reporter hitch a ride from the source or ignore the story? Third, and probably most important, is enforcement. How many journalists have actually read the code of conduct? How many have been made to answer for their ethical sins? Many forget, journalists failing to adhere to the documented in-house editorial policy guidelines actually put the organisation at higher risk, as it makes it easier to aggrieved parties to prove negligence. Fourth is recognition that it is not an easy path to walk. How shall we steer through the ethical path when finances are low – what happens when a newsroom cannot afford transport for all its journalists, should the reporter hitch a ride from the source or ignore the story? There are no easy answers, this is why newsroom leadership must give it thought long before the dilemma occurs. Churchill Otieno is the Managing Editor for Digital at Nation Media Group.

Second, newsrooms need spelt out Oct - Dec • 2015


A river bursts its banks. Flooding is among hazards that come with deforestation.

In retrospect: Flops and lessons for Journalists Journalists should make society proactive, not reactive through timely reporting and sensitisation on mitigation and by avoiding use of crucial weather information only in postmortem analyses of disasters. JAMES MUHINDI explains



he frequency and intensity of natural disasters have been on the rise in the last three decades, with 90 per cent of them being climate-

These disasters include droughts, floods, diseases, extreme cold and hot temperatures, lightning, hailstorms, forest fires, landslides or mudslides, tornadoes, thunderstorms and cyclones. Only 10 per cent of them are geological (volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis), biological (epidemics, pest infestation,


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drug abuse) and technological (traffic accidents, industrial hazards, maninduced terrorism and civil conflicts). Experts say through a system of devoted international cooperation, human suffering caused by disasters can be reduced. This co-operation revolves around public information and education and this is where the media comes in. Communication is the most important means to remedy the situation. It provides not only the data management and analysis techniques but also increased knowledge towards hazards’ origins and behaviours. The media is critical in this process.

The media can play a leadership role in changing the mindset of society to make it more proactive rather than reactive. It also has the responsibility to make the message more valuable and credible for the general public. The media is always expected to create awareness regarding when the predictable disasters are likely to occur. It helps to sensitise people in a most effective manner through live coverage of hazards and prompt reporting through preparedness and mitigation. Preparedness is the most important phase of post-disaster management. Timely and accurate reporting is needed

as an integral part of the early warning system. Media coverage of disasters sometimes vary considerably, with some disasters getting very little coverage and others given prominence. In the past, Kenya has witnessed natural disasters like landslides, mudslides, floods, droughts, forest fires, failing crops, and more. Yet, we have had intense media coverage of some of these, but weaker or almost no reporting of others. Why is the variation?

The media can play a leadership role in changing the mindset of society to make it more proactive rather than reactive. But to effectively highlight disaster, media education is required to ensure reporters understand the nature of hazards that lead to climate-related disasters. It is only through such understanding that a reporter can give accurate information on the impeding disasters and the potential impacts. The El Niño/ La Niña phenomena, for example, are misunderstood by most journalists and editors. To the Kenyan media, El Niño is synonymous with very heavy rainfall associated with massive destruction of infrastructure and loss of human and animal lives. They need to understand through training that not all El Niño episodes lead to heavy rainfall and that El Niños vary significantly. The media needs to understand the climatology of different regions. It is very unlikely, for example, that floods can occur in North Eastern Kenya in JuneJuly-August-September or JanuaryFebruary periods when sunny and dry weather conditions are expected to

dominate as per the climatology of the region. It is also unlikely heat waves can occur in the central or western highlands of Kenya in June-July-August when indeed cold and cloudy weather conditions are expected to be dominant. Issues relating to climate change in Kenya and globally should be given priority. Through training, the media can become a suitable platform from which the public and various stakeholders can learn about hazards linked to climate change. To make a difference, the media should follow certain gudelines. Media houses should avoid the use of weather and climate information only in post-mortem analyses of disasters (e.g several people died following heavy rains that pounded region “A” throughout the night). They should recognise the centrality of weather and climate information in poverty alleviation through sustainable development with its three pillars namely: social development, economic development and environmental management, and with special focus on the weather and climate sensitive areas of water, energy, agriculture and food security, health, environment and biodiversity. In the last decade, there has been an increase in electronic media channels in Kenya. Electronic media have a wider audience. One major contribution the electronic media can make is the establishment of early warning systems in far-flung and disaster-prone areas. Radio channels, and in particular the vernacular ones, can play a primary role since they reach most remote areas. Their contribution can lead to the development of a more robust community, which is more aware and educated about disaster preparedness and mitigation. A good example is that of Japan where the nation has stood united against earthquakes coming on a regular basis. There are continuous awareness programmes, trainings and

drills going on which are produced and telecast by the media throughout the country. The media should promote a better disaster management regime. The role of print media cannot be neglected as it has been observed that receivers of information have more trust in the written message than the word of mouth. The information given in newspapers is perceived as a reliable advice and people take it more seriously. Another much neglected aspect during the pre- and post-disaster activities is the lack of communication and coordination among humanitarian organisations, development partners and state agencies. This leads to duplication of efforts along with lack of effective work on the ground, particularly in the sensitive areas. Improved communication among various organisations is important, but only in the pre-hazard period. There must be focal persons and departments dedicated to such coordination. For disaster mitigation or response, focal persons can remain in contact with partner organisations and government officials for effective measures.

The media has more than often been known to distort information issued by climate scientists. Despite the fact that private media groups and channels have commercial interests, the media’s role in disasters should be based more on ethical and moral dimensions. This is one area where the media should be much more responsible in

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disseminating information. It must win people’s confidence, and the provision of reliable information will serve the purpose. The media should not only be providing correct information and the right message at the right time but should also create an environment of solidarity and faith. This will help in augmenting the collective responsibility of all segments of society to tackle the challenges posed by any disaster. The media has more than often been known to distort information issued by climate scientists and more so when it comes to climate predictions. Journalists have a tendency of seeking out extreme views, which can result in portrayal of risks well beyond reports given by scientists. Journalists tend to overemphasise the most extreme outcomes from a range of possibilities reported in scientific articles. A good example is the prediction for March-April-May 2015 by the Kenya Meteorological Department. The


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forecast indicated that the western and parts of central Kenya were likely to receive enhanced rainfall while much of the eastern sector expected to realise depressed rainfall.

It is high time the media realised that changes to the environment have high impacts on people than politics. Journalists went for the extreme case of enhanced rainfall and reported that most parts of the country were expected to receive heavy rains likely to cause havoc. This was misleading to people living in places like northeastern Kenya

(Mandera, Wajir and Garissa) who had high hopes that there would be enough pastures for their livestock. Contrary to this, the rainfall ended up being highly depressed and the Kenya Meteorological Department was being blamed for issuing a wrong forecast while in actual sense it was a distortion by the media. Also worth noting is the fact that journalists are more inclined towards politics and tend to forget environmental issues. It is high time the media realised that changes to the environment have high impacts on people than politics. The media should therefore put more weight on training journalists and editors on environmental issues. This will impact positively on vulnerable communities. James Muhindi is a meteorologist at Kenya Meteorological Deparment

Training Sets the Stage for Better Disaster Reporting

Media Council of Kenya Deputy CEO, Victor Bwire (standing) in a training session for journalists in Naivasha.


he capacity of Kenyan journalists to report on natural disasters was the focus of trainings recently held by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) and partners in Nairobi. The Council partnered with the Ministry of Environment, UNDP and USAID in October and November 2015 to train journalists on how to cover natural disasters and effectively deliver wideranging environmental stories. Editors and reporters from the mainstream, regional, community media enterprises and county directors of information were briefed on covering

pre-disaster, during disaster and postdisaster phases. The trainings narrowed down to identification and interrogation of crucial issues related to disaster, preparedness of journalists themselves, use of social media and the ethical requirements while reporting.

“Communication is an important part of disaster prevention and management. The media therefore plays a very important role before, during and after a disaster,” said Dr Mwangi, adding that climate change was an integral area that needed global attention.

The decision to conduct the trainings was informed by the Kenya Meteorological Department’s shocking warning to Kenyans that El Niño rains would come in October through to December, 2015. Media Council CEO Dr Haron Mwangi and Dr Harun Warui, the National Project Manager of Low Emissions and Climate Resilient Development Project (LECRD) opened the trainings. Dr Mwangi told journalists to give prominence to climate change stories.

Dr Warui said that the LECRD project, which runs from 2015 to 2017, aims at supporting Kenya’s transformative development agenda by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He said: “The project works to strengthen capacity for low emission development in Kenya, build national and county institutions capacity to better coordinate climate change activities and climate finances, enhance decision making for increased resilience

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to climate change impacts and promote climate smart technologies and business opportunities.” Media Council Deputy CEO Victor Bwire called for better coverage of environmental stories by the local media. He downplayed the notion that environmental stories were not appealing enough to sell, saying the media should henceforth go for the human interest element and its link to climate change. Mr Bwire drew journalists’ attention to capacity building opportunities such as scholarships, fellowships and awards, saying participants should fully utilise them. Journalists were challenged to take up their rightful place in society by playing the watchdog role. Concerns were raised over a situation where the media had gradually become ‘lapdogs’ exploited by policy makers, government, advertisers


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and various interest groups to push their agenda. The media was challenged to prioritise public interest rather than protecting the interests of the powers that be.

The media therefore plays a very important role before, during and after a disaster. Topics covered at the trainings included disaster reporting, disaster management cycle, the science of El Niño, and ethics in disaster reporting, climate change, using social media to report on disasters and safety and security of journalists. Mr James Muhindi of the Kenya Meteorological Department made two

presentations; climate change in Kenya and the El Niño / La-Niña phenomena and the early warning system in Kenya. On climate change, he took participants through the significance of climate, understanding weather, climate and climate change indicators and the impacts and causes of climate change. The trainings were held even as world leaders gathered in France for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, from November 30 to December 11. The search for a workable climate change solution through the UN-led talks has been elusive but it is expected an agreement would be reached soon. Kevin Mabonga is the Assistant Communication and Information Officer at the Media Council of Kenya and an editor, The Media Observer

Political Craze and the Failed Impartiality Test

Has the thirst to splash politics clouded the need to focus on environmental issues and why should environmental reporting matter for the media today? STEPHEN NDEGWA grapples with these questions.


s it has been the case over the years, politics remains the mainstay of Kenya’s media.

Critics of local media have always lamented about the inordinate emphasis journalists give to the country’s political shenanigans at the expense of other more important events. Oftentimes, broadcast news is heavy with partisan party politics, with a third of airtime dedicated to what is happening on the political platforms. It is the same scenario in the print media where the front pages narrate exchanges in the political field. Indeed, the best-selling newspaper editions

are those that splash headlines of a political nature, complete with intrigues and scandals. Are Kenyans hopelessly political? The jury is still out there as to whether the media responds to what the people want or it is the media that sets the agenda by creating an insatiable demand for political news. However, there are subtle changes gradually taking place. Today, it is not unusual for political coverage to cede territory to other issues on grand corruption and disaster reporting. There is politics everywhere – in finance, health, environment, land, agriculture and so on. Unfortunately, we are preoccupied with the ugly and destructive type where deceit, insults, tribalism, murder

and such gory details rule. Even when we have wider coverage of other developments, their significance gets lost in the maze of political reporting. Half of the interviews in the broadcast media during news time is also of a political nature, which edge out serious human interest matters. But now is the time for a paradigm shift. With liberalisation of the media, media houses are being forced to rethink their programming and news content in order to remain relevant to an increasingly discerning audience. Many Kenyans are now suffering from political discourse fatigue and are searching for news that can empower Oct - Dec • 2015


their social and economic lives. To survive, journalists are also seeking stories that are of more immediate significance.

Indeed, the best-selling newspaper editions are those that splash headlines of a political nature, complete with intrigues and scandals. Are Kenyans hopelessly political? This change was evident in the series of workshops held recently on the role of the media in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and management The workshops, which were organised by the Media Council of Kenya, the United Nations Development Programme and the United States Agency for International Development targeted senior editors, community media and journalists from disaster hotbeds. The aim of the workshops was to educate journalists on climate change, El Nino and other environmental phenomena. What is the role of the media during preparedness, relief and recovery of disasters? Having learnt from the apathy that followed the discovery of HIV and Aids two decades ago, it is crucial that the media is taken through the DRR process in detail so they can channel the right information to their audiences. Mere human interest reporting should be replaced with the objective of empowering people with information on the courses of action they need to take in the face of disasters. The importance of keeping abreast with what is happening to the environment cannot be over-emphasised. If we destroy the air, land and water we depend on, there will be no sustenance


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to life on earth. Therefore, the media needs to invert the traditional pyramid and give less credence to politics, at least to the extent that it does not add value to the fundamental issues facing the world today. Top of the list is, of course, climate change. Now, for people with a decent level of education, we can easily understand a concept like “climate change” or “global warming”. But for those who may not be literate enough, or even keep up with current affairs, this phenomenon may be far-fetched. It still sounds like one of those first world problems that do not affect the masses. Nevertheless, there is a level of comprehension beyond which the educated and uneducated do not discern the science of climate change – its origin, causes and effects. While for the schooled this lack of knowledge on the subject may be borne out of cynicism, illiterate people are plagued by ignorance. To them, what you do not know cannot harm you. It is only in the last few years that the science of global warming has become apparent to an increasing number of people. Having learnt from the apathy that followed news about HIV and Aids, even global leaders are now taking a prominent role in raising awareness about impending doom if nothing is done urgently to adapt to and mitigate the effects of rising temperatures all over the world.

What is the role of the media during preparedness, relief and recovery of disasters? Media coverage of climate change has significant effects on public opinion as it mediates scientific opinion. But first, journalists need to get it right. If they fully understand the science of various environmental phenomena, then their reports will be more accurate, factual and

effective. This is quite a big challenge. Therefore, rather than rely wholly on non-governmental organisations, media houses should proactively train journalists to identify the legal, social, economic and environmental impact of climate change.

Media coverage of climate change has significant effects on public opinion as it mediates scientific opinion. To be effective, the media must avoid sensationalism, which is the lifeline of political rhetoric. Creating a dooms day scenario will only lead to confusion. There needs to be a systematic way that connects the dots. For instance, participants in one of the media workshops were disabused of the popular view that El Nino is synonymous with flooding. The phenomenon does not just happen; there are several weather factors that are studied over several years before it is declared evident. Scientists should also play their part by breaking down the science for the media in such a way that they decipher this information for the lay audience. Environmental disasters cost the world hundreds of billions of dollars every year, both in actual terms and lost opportunities. It should be a cardinal role of the mass media to educate the public on the necessary mitigation and adaptation strategies in the face of such disasters. This will help to minimise the inevitable damage from these catastrophes. Everyone should feel both a part of this problem and the solutions needed to take care of the environment as a whole. Stephen Ndegwa is the Executive Director, Centre for Climate Change Awareness

The Destruction of Kenya: Can the Media help? The media, whose role is to raise pertinent society issues has gone mute on environmental issues and now seems to have changed from executing the watchdog role into being tamed to become lapdogs. JOE KADHI looks at how power and politics has contributed to this sad state of affairs.


have never in my long life been as insulted publicly as I was in July 2009 during a hot debate involving the controversy surrounding Mau Forest. All I had done was to point out that the forest was a very important water catchment in this country and that unfortunately a powerful politician had grabbed a huge junk of land from it and had given it to his son and other very close members of his community. That statement made someone to anonymously call me names I cannot repeat in this respected publication. I am

bringing this episode up to illustrate how sensitive the debate on the environment can become when it is politicized. Yet the politicization of the many issues concerning the environment is an inevitability we cannot run away from. Everything about the environment is political. The land, the air, the sea, the trees, the animals and the people and their behaviors are all highly political issues. As Professor Neil Carter of the Department of Politics at the University of York says, environment has been on the political agenda since the late 1960s. But before we examine what Professor Carter has to say about politicization

of the environment, let us look at what has always made it very difficult for Kenyan journalists to highlight the issues of environmental degradation in this country. I was publicly insulted because in my article I had named names of the people responsible for that destruction. Because of the powerful positions held by those responsible, the matter is normally swept under the carpet by journalists. But in academic papers or in reports of intellectual research whose findings circulate only among very few scholars, these facts are commonplace. As the silence continues to become surprisingly deafening Kenya is Oct - Dec • 2015


systematically being destroyed. Its water catchments are being damaged as its exotic forests are steadily ruined. Yet the media, whose Fourth Estate role is to be the watchdog for the entire society and make as much noise as possible whenever they discover such destructions, have mysteriously been silenced.

Everything about the environment is political. The land, the air, the sea, the trees, the animals and the people and their behaviors are all highly political issues. They seem to have completely changed from existing as watchdogs into being tamed to become lapdogs. What exactly seems to have gone wrong with the media and what destructions are taking place right below their noses when they timidly remain quiet? As long ago as in 1999 the Kenya Wildlife Service Forest Conservation Programme Coordinator, Gideon N. Gathaara, conducted an aerial survey of Mt. Kenya, Imenti and Ngare Ndare forests following a public outcry about forest destruction. The results of his survey was a very detailed report which was described by the respected Kenyan conservationist, Dr. Richard Leakey, as a clear and unequivocal proof of wanton degradation of our nation’s natural forests. The report, which was available to the media, established that the whole of Mt. Kenya and Imenti forests were heavily impacted by extensive illegal activities leading to serious destruction of forests in that part of Kenya. Though the report showed clearly that over 6,700 Camphor trees had been destroyed through logging as 14,662 indigenous trees were cut, there was almost total blackout in the media about the shocking devastation. This fascinating report showed that encroachment into edges of indigenous forests was recorded emanating from Shamba-system cultivated areas.


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According to its findings all the natural forests in the Lower Imenti had been destroyed and were under crop cultivation. In the lower part of the Upper Imenti forest, said the report, extensive past and on-going charcoal production was observed throughout this area, leading to widespread destruction of the indigenous forest. Apart from that Gathaara observed that Marijuana (bhang) cultivation was quite extensive totaling 200 hectares, and was being grown in the indigenous forest from the edges to deep inside and high up in the forest. The programme coordinator also exposed that Ngare Ndare forest was impacted by illegal logging of Cedar, livestock grazing and fires. Looking at that report today I am absolutely flabbergasted as to why the news editors of that time did not assign anyone to do those very shocking stories which were taking place around Mount Kenya. The only explanation I can get at the moment is lack of imagination because everything narrated by the Gathaara constitute news with an abundance of News Values.

some of which had already existed on the ground as early as 1994. Dr. Klopp explains that among the official reasons for the excisions was the need to settle Ogiek and people who were displaced because of state-instigated violence surrounding the elections of 1992 and 1997. Examining those two incidents at the Mount Kenya Forest and the Mau Forest two points emerge: That in the case of Mau forest the people involved were powerful politicians who made it almost impossible for the story of their destruction of an important forest in Kenya to be told by journalists. But in the case of Mount Kenya forest the journalists simply appear to have been unaware of what was going on.

Should the coverage of environmental issues become part of journalism curriculum in various institutions of higher learning?

The other incident of destruction of forests in Kenya is what I was publicly insulted for when I wrote about it in July 2009. It concerns Mau forest and as I said before scholars who write about the same incidents get away with their reports because politicians in Kenya never read scholarly reports. Among the best of the reports about Mau Forest was written by Dr. Jacqueline Klopp who is an Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

Which brings up a very important question Professor Nail Carter was discussing while elaborating the environment issues as part and parcel of politics in the world today. If issues environmental and politics are inseparable can journalists really afford to ignore them? And if they cannot afford to ignore them what is the best way of covering them? Should the coverage of environmental issues become part of journalism curriculum in various institutions of higher learning?

Writing for Georgetown Journal of International Affairs in an Article titled “Maps, Power, and the Destruction of Mau Forest in Kenya” which is published in Winter/ Spring of 1921, the scholar tells the story which took place in 2001, one year before the historic election that would see President Daniel arap Moi step down and the Kenya African National Union lose power. At that time the government announced the excision of 61,586 hectares of the Mau forest for a number of different “settlement schemes,”

First environmental issues and politics. Nail Carter, who is a highly respected intellectual giant has examined the many political aspects concerning the environment since 1960 and concludes that a lot has happened concerning the environment in that time. After examining the many issues he poses an extremely important question which I shall repeat here: Is the planet better off? To answer that question the scholar says that according to one popular heuristic measure of the state of the environment

– the ecological footprint – things are bad and getting steadily worse. What exactly did he mean by his empirical term “ecological footprint”? Scholars have agreed that that term describes the amount of nature it takes to sustain a given population over a course of a year. With that explanation in mind, it become quite easy to understand how serious the matter of the environment as a political issue becomes when scholars say that this footprint first exceeded the Earth’s biological capacity in the late1970s, and since that time it has risen steadily, overshooting by almost 40 per cent in 2005. That scholastic measurement becomes even easier to understand when there are some man made activities which destroys our environment. In a book published by the Cambridge University Press in 2007 titled “The Politics of the Environment” Carter reminds us the April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion which caused a catastrophic human and environmental consequences stretching from the Ukraine across much of the Northern Hemisphere. The scholar tells us that Chernobyl appeared to be the death knell for the nuclear industry because after it, most governments stopped commissioning any new nuclear power-stations. Unfortunately the scholar admits that, twenty years later the nuclear industry is remarkably back in favour, with the first new nuclear reactor in the EU for over a decade being built in Finland, the French and British governments planning a new generation of nuclear reactors, and President Bush offering financial incentives to anyone willing to build the first nuclear power stations in the USA in a generation. Ironically, says Carter, the contemporary justification for nuclear power is the ‘green’ claim that it is a carbon-free solution to climate change. The saddest part of the whole debate about polluting the world through nuclear accidents like that of Chernobyl in 1986 or the one which took place in Japan in March 2011 is the fact that when the talks get serious the African voice is

never heard at all because the opinion from this continent is neither sought nor considered important when these matters are discussed internationally. Because our leaders, journalists and even a large group of scholars still have to internalize this new subject contextually as seen from an African point of view, it is important to establish proper courses where the subject of environment and its politics can be studies from our own perspective. I am aware there are many universities that have started such courses in Kenya but schools of journalism have yet to design such units to make future professional journalists specialize in this course. I have in mind a detailed course like the one designed by Dr. Tim Forsyth, Reader in Environment and Development, Development Studies Institute (DESTIN) at The London School of Economics and Political Science. His course provides students with the insights into and an understanding of global environmental problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss, and the ways in which countries and people can address them. Kenyan scholars who are interested in developing courses for journalists who want to specialize in the coverage of environmental issues should have a look at the work done by Anil Agarwal the founder of the Centre for Science and Environment based in New Delhi. In a paper titled Politics of Environment, this great Indian Scientist looks at the problem of environment in a manner that is closer to us than the way Western scientist examine this important subject. Telling the Indian story of success in handling environmental issues Agarwal says Indians look at the environment and its problems as if it was an idea whose time has come. He praises the manner in which newspapers give prominent display to environmental horror stories and editorials demand better management of natural resources. He also acclaims Government statements on the need to preserve the environment and also accepts the fact that in India Government

programmes are quite numerous and increasing in number day by day. According to him there are massive schemes for afforestation which have resulted into millions of seedlings being distributed or planted. But despite all these achievements the Indian scientist says there is a major problem with this entire range of activities and concerns. His concern is that this programme does not appear to be based on a holistic understanding of the relationship between environment and the development process in his country. In my view this is where Kenya can also learn from Agarwal’s suggestion. He says the programmes in India are not only ad hoc but they also don’t seem to have any clear priorities. He also claims that they are implemented through what he calls a policeman’s attitude. According to Agarwal the Indian programmes seem to be based on the belief that concern for the environment essentially means protecting and conserving it, partly from development programmes but mainly from the people themselves. To him there is little effort to modify the development process itself in a manner that will bring it into greater harmony with the needs of the people and with the need to maintain ecological balance, while increasing the productivity of our land, water and forest resources. Joe Kadhi is a former Managing Editor of the Daily Nation who taught journalism at the University of Nairobi, Addis Ababa University and the United States International University from where he has just retired. He is also the Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Media Observer. Joe Kadhi is a former Managing Editor of the Daily Nation who taught journalism at the University of Nairobi, Addis Ababa University and the United States International University from where he has just retired. He is also the Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Media Observer.

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Faith Kasiva, Team Leader, Socio Economic Development, UN Women (left) and Dr. Haron Mwangi, CEO, MCK, launching the Gender Agenda report at the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications, Nairobi.

Call to Action as Council Launches Gender Report By Kevin Mabonga


new report has revealed wide gender inequalities within the Kenyan media, with stakeholders blaming the anomaly on lack of clear-cut gender policies in newsrooms. The report titled Gender AgendaAssessing Gender Issues in the Kenyan Media, shows glaring gender disparities which favour men. It also analyses how the media faired in covering gender. The outcome of the survey was launched by the Media Council in collaboration with Aga Khan Graduate School of Media and Communications at the Aga Khan Graduate School of Media on December 2, 2015. While launching the report, Faith Kasiva, Team Leader for Social Economic Development at the UN Women, praised the Council for undertaking the research,


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saying it couldn’t have come at a better time. “This report will enrich debate on gender equality and help in the formulation of policies around advancement of women in Kenyan media houses,” said Ms Kasiva. Referring to the Global Media Monitoring Project 2015, the world’s largest gender research and advocacy initiative, she said findings had shown that women make up about 50 per cent of the population but only a few were featured in the news.

in the news and that “women should be represented not only in information chain but also in regulation and policy areas.”

This report will enrich debate on gender equality and help in the formulation of policies around advancement of women.

Media Council CEO Dr Haron Mwangi said there was need to ensure constitutional gender provisions are achieved, adding the media should work with stakeholders towards the realisation of two-thirds gender representation.

The Council, through its media monitoring and research unit, monitors and releases reports on various media outlets using the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism as a benchmark.

Dr Mwangi said under-representation of women in media denied them a voice

Rhonda Breit, Associate Dean at Aga Khan University, said more women

were now in the media compared the scenario three decades ago. She urged participants to view gender debate in the context of male and female. Rhonda said focus should be on the realisation of gender justice in the media. “We have to examine whether women’s rights to communicate are respected,” Rhonda said. Amos Kibet, the Head of Media Monitoring Unit at the Council said the findings show existence of wide gender inequalities. The report also confirmed gender stereotyping in media. Kibet said: “Majority of stereotypes are found in advertising (44 per cent) and commercials (37 per cent). The report also shows lack of gender policy could be one of the major reasons behind the inequalities. At least 62 per cent of journalists in Kenya are not aware of any

gender policy in their work places.”

We have to examine whether women’s rights to communicate are respected. Jane Godia, the Managing Editor at African Woman and Child Service said: “The report forms the bedrock of how to address gender issues.” She praised the Council for launching the report, saying it raised important gender issues. Annette Ngugi of the Mother and Child TV said the findings will be important in identifying and addressing gender gaps. Hassan Kulundu, the Deputy Secretary, Kenya Editors Guild, urged the Council to circulate the report widely so that

Kenyans can share their views. He added gender inequalities were prevalent in various sectors because of our weak labour laws. Dr Sam Kamau of the Aga Khan University commended the Council for collaborating with the institution and called for more engagements. He challenged the participants to take the discussion further. “It is time to dig deep into the issues as we continue with the conversation,” Dr Kamau said. Kevin Mabonga is the Assistant Communication and Information Officer at the Media Council of Kenya and an editor, The Media Observer

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Long road to media regulation

Journalists interviewing Rhonda Breit, Associate Dean, Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications during launch of a press card verification mobile number by the Media Council of Kenya in December 2015.

WILLIAM OKETCH looks at how the journey to regulation was frustrated by lack of consensus in key areas and how stakeholders were yet to appreciate that accountability is vital in building public trust in the mass media.


hallenges experienced by media regulatory agencies in Kenya and elsewhere are attributable to a lack of consensus and unanimity amongst industry players and government on the nature, principles and method of regulatory framework. In Kenya, the process culminating in the establishment of a media regulatory body was, from the onset, beset by differences and divergent positions among stakeholders and government. During the latter years of the Moi regime, the government set up a task force to review and make recommendations on a comprehensive legal framework for media regulation but the proposals


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were rejected by stakeholders for failing to protect the right to information. After Narc swept to power, there was optimism that the regime would address stakeholder concerns.

What stakeholders have failed to appreciate is that media regulation and accountability are vital aspects of media freedom since they help to build the public trust in the mass media.

Unfortunately, the regime pushed through a contentious Media Act 2007 which established the Media Council of Kenya as a statutory self-regulatory body with a code of ethics to guide journalism practice. It also set up a Complaints Commission as an adjudicatory body to settle media disputes and enforce the code of ethics. However, there were still concerns that the media regulatory regime under that Act was inadequate and gave lee-way for the government to muzzle press freedoms as witnessed in the raid at the Standard Group offices and media oppression in the aftermath of the disputed 2007 elections. The clamour for an industry-approved regulatory

framework continued post-enactment of a new Constitution in 2010 after the government passed contentious media laws of 2013, which are still a subject of litigation. Therefore, lack of consensus on a media regulatory framework undermines the credibility of the eventual body thereby depriving it of legitimacy. What stakeholders have failed to appreciate is that media regulation and accountability are vital aspects of media freedom since they help to build the public trust in the mass media.

Between January and July 2015, the Media Council of Kenya received about 40 complaints. The challenge often arises due to the struggle of balance between ‘effective media regulation and the democratic right to freedom of expression.’ It is not a very easy task to pick the greatest challenges for a media regulator of today but in the Kenyan context, these challenges can broadly be categorised as institutional, operational and enforcement. Enveloping all these is the challenge of a rapidly evolving media landscape requiring new techniques to cope with global trends of media regulation. For instance in the UK, the changing media practices led to the institution of the ‘Lord Leveson Inquiry’ that investigated the culture, practices and ethics of the British Press, consequently producing a detailed report that recommended how the media can be effectively regulated. See (http://www. Media ownership is the foremost challenge confronting a regulator since due to its profit maximization potential, several top politicians, their business allies and the ruling elite own substantial shares in dominant media enterprises.

This raises concerns regarding the potential for undue influence wielded by powerful media owners over citizens and policy choices. Regulating such powerful media enterprises becomes a challenge unless there is adequate political will and a culture of good governance, transparency, the rule of law and accountability. There is now a convincing body of evidence to suggest that particular corporate or political affiliations can lead to media bias or the suppression of information, thus undermining the regulator’s intervention to guarantee a variety of independent media sources which provide diverse information and opinions than a consolidated market. In developing democracies like Kenya, there is the challenge of balancing the freedom of the media to engage in various media practices that will promote and consolidate democracy and ensuring that such media practices are within the law. Media accountability and adherence to the code of conduct is rather weak.

Lack of co-operation and institutional support of the Media Council by media firms has undermined the efforts of the regulator to enforce the code of conduct for the practice of journalism. This causes incidents of media sensationalism, manipulation of facts, false reports, criticisms of bias, and the abuse of media freedom within government media, as well as private media. This is often reflected in the large numbers of complaints that regulatory agencies receive from the public. Between January and July 2015, the Media Council of Kenya received about 40 complaints.

This scenario is unhealthy for the media environment especially in a developing country and most stakeholders in the media industry are concerned about who watches the watchdog (the media) to ensure that their activities are in accordance with the laws and sociopolitical aspirations of the land as well as the ethos of the profession. Another challenge is the growth of new media platforms including social media which the current regulatory framework did not anticipate. Social media has emerged in recent years as an essential tool for hundreds of millions of Internet users worldwide and any regulatory body must consider how it can use social media to service its stakeholders and meet its public mandate as well as assess whether social media raises specific new regulatory or policy challenges. In other words, regulators such as MCK find themselves in a tight spot of having to understand a rapidly changing online environment while simultaneously becoming active users of that environment in order to remain publicly relevant and engaged. Even more challenging are the substantive issues raised by social media due to many emerging legal and policy challenges including telecom regulation, privacy, free speech, advertising and marketing, securities regulation, electoral law, and access. Currently, there is the issue of dominance regulation of Safaricom where two regulatory agencies have taken diverging positions. Many of these issues may fall within the purview of national telecom and broadcast regulators who will be asked to consider whether existing legal frameworks can be effectively adapted to the social media environment. Jurisdictional challenges create an added complexity to the social media policy issues since sites and services that are frequently located outside the jurisdiction pose a challenge when it comes to enforcement. Multiplicity of regulatory regimes that Oct - Dec • 2015


are functionally cross-cutting and interlinked yet there is no synchronized mechanism for harmonising them is another challenge. These include traditional regulators of the traditional movie, cinema films, books and newspapers as well as theatre shows. The reality of globalisation, cultural diversity and multi-racialism has led to the fluidity of objective criteria in considering what publication would be objectionable to particular categories of audiences. A conflict of cultural out-looks makes it difficult for a regulator to set standards and monitor compliance especially when considered in light of media pluralism reflected in the existence of a plurality of independent and autonomous media as well as a diversity of media types and contents (views and opinions) made available to the public. Legislative claw-back provisions is another threat confronting regulators in instances where due to political, commercial or organisational vested interests legislators enact laws which undermine the foundational principles of freedom of the media and expression as espoused in a supreme law such as the Constitution. The Media Council Act, the Security Laws [Amendment] Act and the Kenya Information and Communication [Amendment] Act are cases in point where stakeholders have either challenged the constitutionality of the laws and/or the same have been declared by courts as unconstitutional for muzzling press freedom. The state has failed to cultivate a strong and consistent tradition in the promotion of freedom of the media as a prerequisite for the human right of freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 34 of the Constitution. Lack of co-operation and institutional support of the Media Council by media firms has undermined the efforts of the regulator to enforce the code of conduct for the practice of journalism.


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The attitude of the media enterprises towards media regulation has been less encouraging especially taken within the context of millions of shillings of unpaid fines due to the council resulting from subtle defiance or outright disregard of the judgments and awards against media enterprises adjudged to have violated the code of conduct. There ought to be reciprocity and mutual support of the work of the council by media players to ensure that the regulator has its credibility maintained. An additional issue is the proliferation of the gutter press, making it difficult to enforce the code amongst rogue journalists wanting to play outside the rules. Additionally, the ambiguous nature of technological innovations has reshaped the media landscape at great pace. The rise of the internet-based technologies has widened participation of citizens not only as consumers but also as producers of media content. But, these new technologies and the media transformations they produce have also triggered renewed concerns over media regulation in the emerging information, communications and technological advancements. Lack awareness of the regulatory mechanisms amongst industry players has been a hindrance to enforcement of the code of conduct. Many journalists practice without submitting themselves to the accreditation process of the council. There is still low-level support from media owners in ensuring that they are at the fore-front of professionalising the practice through continuous training of their employees. Middle-level colleges offering courses in journalism have for a long time operated without an approved training curriculum that emphasizes the code of professional ethics for journalists. The Government through the parent ministry has also undermined effective enforcement of the code of conduct

through inadequate budgetary provisions and financial emasculation which hampers the council from effective discharge of its core mandate.

Many journalists practice without submitting themselves to the accreditation process of the council. However, not all is gloom and doom as there have been instances of industry support to the work and decisions of the council and the Complaints Commission. In the case of Jamleck Kamau Vs Royal Media Services T/A Citizen TV MCC 5/2013, the commission gave guidelines to further improve the respondent’s road safety programme called Roadhog which shames traffic offenders on national TV. It is encouraging that the programme did comply with the directives of the commission. Again in Uhuru Kenyatta Vs the Star and Jerry Okungu MCC 2/2013 the commission gave a directive requiring the Respondent to issue a public apology over a publication deemed to have vilified the complainant. This was duly complied with thereby indicating that the work of the council is not in vain. Stakeholders ought to seek consensus on contentious issues and move forward with one resolve to attain regulatory compliance and to uphold the constitutional rights of free speech and a professional and robust media. William Oketch is a Commissioner of the Complaints Commission, Media Council of Kenya and a serving Magistrate/Deputy Registrar in the Judiciary of Kenya.

Forestalling the death of the environment beat

People wading a flooded road. Enhanced rainfall associated with El Nino is a product of climate change. Media has key role in conserving the environment.

As AMOS KIBET argues, inadequate coverage of environmental stories in Kenya is a reflection of the fact that environmental reporting is not an easy beat, nor does it have a ready readership in Kenya yet.


he society has been adversely affected by environmental challenges that continue attracting media attention. The environmental problems are varied and range from acid rain, air pollution, global warming, hazardous waste, ozone depletion, smog, water pollution to rainforest destruction.

cover the science of climate change without delving into politics.

One reason these challenges hardly escape the sharp lenses of the media is that they are laced with politics. Some environmental issues have been marred by corruption and have become juicy stories for journalists to cover. Media experts, indeed, agree it isn’t easy to

Media coverage of these problems influences the public’s environmental consciousness directly and can motivate societies to take action to remedy them. The media in Kenya can help draw political attention to key environmental issues especially during

There is need to promote public appreciation of the inherent values and benefits that the natural environment provides. This can be effectively done through the media. Environmental issues such as climate change are often complex and laden with scientific/ technical jargon. Journalists can demystify the issues.

the electioneering period. Indeed, ethical and professional journalism fuels dialogue between government, NGOs, communities, and lobby groups as well as concerned citizens in an effort to find solutions to environmental challenges. The inadequate coverage of environmental stories in Kenya is a reflection of the fact that environmental reporting is not an easy beat, nor does it have a ready readership yet. There are a number of challenges in covering this subject for the mass media. The media has definitely played a pivotal role in the current global discourse on climate change and environment. Trends over the last few years show that

Oct - Dec • 2015


the environment has been reported consistently in less than 2 per cent of the prime time in television news. And it is definitely not a front-page priority for local newspapers. Media representation, from news to entertainment, provide critical links between formal environmental science and politics and the realities of how people experience and interact with their environment. Media attention is indispensible and very significant in addressing environmental problems successfully. Indeed, it is a fact that the rise and decline of people’s concern about environmental problems is linked to the immediate media agenda. A research study done by Sampei (2008) of Japanese newspaper coverage of global warming and other environmental issues showed that a dramatic increase in newspaper coverage from January 2007 correlated with an increase in public concern on the issue. This signifies that an increase in media coverage translates to increased public awareness.

The media in Kenya has facilitated positive popular action by encouraging people to contribute to environmental sustainability. Media coverage can also promote changes of values and attitudes toward the environment and environmental policies. However, the media’s tendency to simplify complex issues related to the environment, economy, or political conflict can limit public understanding of those issues and by extension, constrain policymakers’ ability to deal effectively with societal problems. Fairness, accuracy, and precision in media reporting remain critical: To the extent that efforts have fallen short of such aims, media coverage of the


Oct - Dec • 2015

environment has contributed to critical misperceptions, misleading debates, and divergent understandings, which are detrimental to efforts that seek to enlarge rather than constrict the spectrum of possibility for appropriate responses to various environmental challenges. The media in Kenya has facilitated positive popular action by encouraging people to contribute to environmental sustainability. From our analysis, it is evident that the media in Kenya has been focusing on simple issues like environmental cleaning exercises to comprehensive discourses locally and internationally. One element that has been lacking in our media coverage is the promotion of the practice of the 3Rs - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The media has failed to promote these key environmental aspects. It should be noted that good environmental reporting stimulates public interest and gives citizens the basis to make informed decisions, whether by way of insisting on better management of natural resources by the government or calling for businesses to adopt more sustainable practices. The coverage of environmental issues in Kenya has increased over the last decade. But it still remains fairly limited and is largely reactive. Stories on the environment do not grab the public’s attention the way that political and economic stories do unless when such environment stories are controversial or negative. Environmental issues are multi-faceted and encompass science, business, economics, culture, health and many others. How mass media represents environmental issues will remain important in the intersections between science, governance, and everyday lives and livelihoods in the 21st century. The challenge is to present the different angles and make environmental issues relate to the daily lives of the public. These are attempts to make environment

a consistent and comprehensive issue of interest for media professionals. These efforts are also being made so that environment and climate change can become an integral part of the daily media repertoire, beyond the current event-based reporting on these subjects. With today’s ever improving information and communication technology, the media has the advantages of speed (in terms of instantaneous information) and reach (the number of people getting the news). Such potential for communication should be exploited to the fullest, to educate citizens and promote positive action for the environment.

Fairness, accuracy, and precision in media reporting remain critical: To the extent that efforts have fallen short of such aims Clearly, the environment is not just about clean air, clean land and clean water. It is our life and our future. The media needs to play a deeper role in not just explicating environmental issues but also in enhancing citizen’s goodwill and political commitment towards realising environmental sustenance. Extreme positions and confrontational advocacy are not likely to bring stakeholders to a mutually beneficial outcome. To this end, the media should not just aim to cover sensational issues related to environment but also ensure consistent debate on minor and major issues affecting the environment in Kenya. Amos Kibet is a Research and Media Monitoring Officer at the Media Council of Kenya

You can now pay for Media Council of Kenya Accreditation through M-Pesa

Accreditation fees Local Journalist: Ksh 2,000 Foreign Journalist: Ksh 10,000 Foreign Journalist (Short Term - 3 Months): Ksh 5,000 Student: Ksh 300 Card Replacement Fee: Ksh 300 Card Replacement: Lost press cards will only be replaced upon production of a

Mpesa Paybill Steps

Journalists can use the M=PESA service to pay for accreditation fees at the Media Council of Kenya by following the steps below:

police abstract and letter from the

1. Go to the MPESA menu,

employer stating the loss.

2. Select payment services

IMPORTANT TO NOTE Certificates and portfolio should be provided by ALL journalists accrediting for the first time with the Media Council of Kenya. First year students are not eligible for accreditation. Training institutions are advised to issue them with introduction letters when carrying out field based assignments. In case of any queries, contact us at:

3. Choose Pay Bill option 4. Enter 897250 as the business number 5. Enter your full name as the account number 6. Enter the Amount 7. Enter your pin and press OK


Oct - Dec • 2015

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