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




Wednesday, 21 March 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All these elements appear to be connected:

- the tremors,

- the heavy rains,

- the emerging fault lines

- even the country splitting

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

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

Let's see where the next episode takes us.

Thursday, 15 March 2018


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

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

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

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

But are we referring to this Dr. Malachi Odhiambo?

Or maybe this one?

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

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

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

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

So too, is correcting editorial mistakes.

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

Thursday, 8 March 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am yet to recover from this editorial monstrosity!

Thursday, 1 March 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

But this time, it was a bit unsettling.

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

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

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

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

It wasn't the Budget speech!