BWIRE: In retrospect, journalists should have a reflection

By Victor Bwire It’s no longer a question of whether media in general and journalists in particular in Kenya need self-reflection and conversation within the increasingly changing operating landscape, but when. There is a lot of pressure on the industry both from the business and the professional sides to relook on the manner of going about their work. Individual media houses, especially the big corporates in the country are investing in new business models and content delivery systems as they continue to realign in the new environment, but the larger industry is choking. Away from the issue of media business and ownership issues that have big influence on journalists practice, including on editorial influencing, unleashing corporate terrorism on journalists, by way of sacking independent journalists, mismanagement and running down otherwise strong media enterprises through theft and poor decision making, it’s time journalists realized that they are on their own. Interestingly, the people who are suffering most in the reducing space in the media industry are journalists; whenever the staff retrenchment happens, the other departments are rarely touched, it’s always the editorial departments. Journalists are the smallest number in many media enterprises nowadays. Professional journalists must move from lamentations, the secluding themselves from feedback and peer reviews, interactions amongst themselves to share lessons, and support self -regulation in the profession by respecting their own code and subjecting themselves to accountability. A number of people are taking advantage of the lapse in response and seemingly aloofness from some journalists and media houses, who seem more concerned with the journalism business rather that the business of journalism.  It’s not about the media house you work for, because you are just an employee, who can move from that media house to another. Let journalists outside their media houses, personal interests and tribal inclinations as a matter of urgency find ways through their various existing bodies and associations, see the lurking danger and threats to the profession find ways of coming together to review their performance and relevance to the society. A lot people now want media attention and coverage; the big players in the country especially the political and business class have invested in media campaigns and will want to sway public opinion to their side — they will cry out and blame media whenever critical stories come out on them. In the same breadth, a number of media relation brokers/middlemen and quacks are in the market in search of the politicians’ millions in the name of fixing their media problems. Many with past media working connections have bought media equipment including cameras, recorders, and notebooks and have media badges, to convince none suspecting Kenyans of how they will secure media coverage; especially positive stories covered or negative ones killed, but their only interest is the money. A number of people have raised concerns about the quality and professionalism exhibited by the media in terms of content and behavior. There are too many masqueraders in the industry and it’s becoming very difficult for legitimacy journalists to work. While for a long time the issues were corruption in the media industry and restrictions in terms legal regime relating to media practice in Kenya, now the biggest ugly face of journalism in the country is lack of professionalism and unregulated content on air. Kenyans be aware that not all people carrying cameras, recorders and notebooks are journalists or work for legitimate and credible media outlets; many are mere cons and brokers looking for your money. Press Conferences will be parked to capacity, fake interviews will be done and a number of sources will be asked to facilitate or “release” the “journalists” after those interviews or press conferences; but no stories will be forthcoming. Angry sources after failing to see the articles will accuse media of all manner of things creating a very hostile working environment for journalists and other media workers who are legitimate. Misrepresentation as most of the quacks in the industry do is a criminal offence and attracts an arrest. Public places including hotels and offices, ensure you establish the authenticity of those claiming to be working for media. Don’t fall prey to cons in town. The grasp of the professional ethics for the practice of journalism in Kenya by many media workers, especially over radio stations who host talk shows and callers in programmes is seriously wanting. Trainings and sensitization is a must and people must up their performance. Let’s stop using prime time airtime on cheap and vulgar talk while coached callers fill most of the time but prioritize issues of national concern or development during the discussions. We need to ensure diversity of voices and the choice of guests during our shows. What goes on in the media is more than just journalism, and others in the industry are sitting and discussing emerging issues in the industry including plotting against journalists, while journalists are busy fighting with and amongst themselves. Feedback from the many sessions we have held through the town halls organized by the Kenya Editors Guild and the Media and information literacy forums with the Media Council of Kenya across the country, and a recent self- reflection forum with station managers, talk show hosts and online editors, shows things on the ground have changed. The author is the Programmes Manager at the Media Council of Kenya

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