Free and independent journalism under threat from rogue reporters

The media guards closely their right to self-regulation. [iStockphoto]

In 2001, the Media Steering Committee in conjunction with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation developed a Code of Conduct and Practice of Journalism in Kenya.

It was aimed at ensuring the media regulates itself within set parameters to avoid being gaged or muzzled by the State and ensure freedom of expression, at the core of democracy, thrives.

The freedom of expression is only enjoyed by a free and independent media and counterbalanced with the right to privacy. The media must not trample upon or invade individual rights to privacy, conscience, and thought. This means the application of journalistic ethics and standards to ensure free, independent, and responsible journalism is the hallmark of a free, democratic, and robust society, all safeguarded by the self-regulation of media.

The media guards closely their right to self-regulation. These codes and subsequent ones ensure errant practitioners in the media are disciplined. Codes like these are expected to keep the government out of media operations while ensuring ethical standards and machinery are established for enforcement offering aggrieved parties, opportunities to complain and receive redress for their grievances against rogue and errant journalists/reporters to avoid litigation.

The 2001 code was supposed to be implemented by an Independent Media Council. 22 years later, proliferation of media houses, social media, and other media has seen a free-for-all situation where even professional journalists and media houses have resorted to fake news.

But is this worth the price of abdicating the cardinal duty of a journalist/reporter, to gather information, write news pieces, and present the news in an honest and balanced manner? Corruption and intimidation by journalists/reporters are commonplace and in fact, quite accepted even within the profession.

The days when one would invite journalists to professionally cover stories and events for free appear to be long over. When you invite journalists/reporters/media to cover your event or story, they expect to be paid even though it is never guaranteed that everything you pay for will be published.

Journalists/reporters are weaponised by malicious people who pay them to twist stories and tarnish reputations. In fact, once a journalist/reporter is paid to intimidate or destroy someone’s reputation, they will not even try to verify veracity of the story they are writing nor do they care about the irreparable damage they may cause an institution.

Instead, they will embellish half-truths to make them more sensational, the more sensational demand more pay for them. I don’t understand why a few journalists/reporters are hell-bent on tarnishing the great name of journalism/reporting, which is still a respected profession.

Some of my most respected and revered professionals are journalists across all main media houses. But the same media houses have journalists/reporters who have gone completely rogue. They will not report a story if they are not paid facilitation (bribe) and they will twist and turn facts into fake news at a small fee.

We know this is wrong but are silenced by the fear, intimidation, and threats by these journalists/reporters with dire consequences including the threat that they will tarnish your name “na utado?”

Some media houses are aware that some of their journalists/reporters are corrupt and that they intimidate and blackmail people with exposure.

If journalists/reporters can only cover your story if you pay them, they become beholden to the highest bidder and the integrity and veracity of their reports/news/stories cannot be guaranteed.

A few days ago I was astounded by the arrogance and hubris of a journalist who when called out for reporting half-truths, fake news, maligning and tarnishing people’s reputations shrugged off and while smiling gestured that you can go wherever you want to go and see how far you get but in the meantime you will be sorry for standing between him and his gravy train.

This is why people are scared and afraid of blackmail and intimidation from journalists/reporters and prefer to keep them remunerated or keep their distance. The sad part is, since a growing number of reporters pander to the highest bidders, we lack objective reporting and responsible journalism.