My last week’s blog post, “You PR People”, did not go down well with some of my friends from the Public Relations field. I received comments and private chats on the same, from people who are strongly convinced that journalists are truly quacks in the PR field. In their defense, journalists should not be allowed to join the field, unless they do some basic training on what PR is regardless of the number of years they serve in journalism. To others, my article aimed at fuelling the tension between journalists and PR professionals and igniting, the rivalry that exists between the two professions. Well, my service is in both worlds and I have trained in both professions. So for the sake of maintaining peace, please allow me to apologize. I am sorry for any tension caused. Forgiven? I now invite you to grab your seat, then let’s talk about journalism and journalists.
It’s a month now since the Cabinet Secretary for Information, Communication and Technology in Kenya, Joe Mucheru appointed a 9-Member Council led by Mr. Maina Muiruri to serve as the Media Council of Kenya Board for the next three years. I am very humbled and glad that I could be part of this Board and I am truly excited at what lies ahead of us. We are taking up this role, alive to the burden of expectations that the role comes with it, especially at this time when the media sector in Kenya is facing a very defining moment in terms of regulation, legislation and legitimacy.
I believe that through God’s grace and collaboration with all stakeholders, we will do what is humanely possible to deliver as per the aspirations of media practitioners and the public at large in so far as it is, for the good of this noble profession.
Journalism just like many other professions, is an industry that is evolving and hence, facing complexities and intricacies that seem to get worse with the emerging trends and the introduction of digital media. While that is a real risk to the profession, the real threat lies in the myths that surround this profession. While at times they feel so real, we must make a deliberate efforts to discredit these myths and set the record straight. It is also important to note that, journalists too have played a huge part in creation and propagation of these myths and in essence, should take responsibility of the mess we find ourselves in.
I have carefully thought through some the myths and now, I want to bring them to your attention, one after one. I hope in doing so, you will get a chance to reflect on your assumptions and hopefully you might want to question your beliefs, prejudices and assumptions as far as journalism and journalists are concerned, especially in Kenya.
Myth #1 Journalism is for every Tom, Dick and Harry.
This is definitely the greatest misconception about journalism. A lot of people look at this profession and imagine it is an easy job. One that can be done by anyone out there. Depending on where you find yourself, this profession gives you a false hope of quick money, fame, glamour, good life, travel and lots of freebies. Who doesn’t want all these? I will be quick to burst your bubble. You must have a calling to being a journalist. It is not for the faint hearted. It has unrealistic deadlines to be met, long hours and days away from your family, many a times no weekends or holidays unless with prior planning, unrealistic paycheck, if at all you get employers who pay you and on time. I am yet to meet anyone in the media who says, my salary is equivalent to the amount of work I put in. The sooner you get out of that box thinking that this job is about money, fame, glitz and glamour, the better. This profession is about fulfilling a calling. You must be called to be a journalist.
Myth #2 Journalism is a fraud and so are journalists.
Well, this conversation is about the many quacks the industry has to deal with even in 2019. I must start by saying that the issue of quacks cuts across many other professions. There are quack doctors, lecturers, engineers, divers, marketers, herbalists and the list is endless. The issue of quacks especially in Kenya, can largely be blamed on Kenyan journalists who refuse to accredit themselves. The Media Council of Kenya, for the longest period now, has been preaching the accreditation gospel, yet, there are many who hear the call but refuse to answer. If all practicing journalists and practitioners answer to the call to accredit themselves, then we would have solved this problem halfway. It ideally means that, any other journalist without a valid accreditation is not allowed to conduct business as a Kenyan journalist. So here is my call to all journalists, shall make accreditation our priority, especially in the coming year?
Myth #4 The future of mainstream journalism is bleak.
With the introduction of technology, it is obvious that social media has brought many improvements but at the same time, it has introduced us to many challenges. Communication, work and travel has become easier, faster and better over the years. You no longer have to wait for the prime time to watch news, yours will be to confirm what you already saw earlier on through the various social media platforms. The good news is, journalism is here to stay. We are driven by the need for the public to get information. A right that is enshrined in our constitution. That need is not about to change. The only thing that will change is how we conduct our business as journalists. To remain afloat, we simply need to change and adopt to a model that caters for a more digital savvy audience. Professional journalists who care for this profession, must uphold the highest standards of reporting, observance of media ethics and editorial guidelines guided by the tenets of code of conduct for practising journalists. For example, journalists must differentiate themselves from bloggers. While bloggers present their opinion, journalists must report facts and shun propagating unverified information.
Myth #5 Journalism is too risky a profession.
Well, yes it is. All over the globe. Threats of murder, attacks while on duty, rape, physical violence, trolling, graphic imagery, cyberbullying, intimidation by police, interest groups or individuals, confiscation or destruction of property, sexual harassment and targeted surveillance are among some of the risks journalists have to deal with. According to a report by the Media council of Kenya, 19 journalists have been attacked, threatened and insulted in the course of duty the last one year. But, you know what? Every job has its own risks or potential threats and so is the environment we live in. What we should be asking for, is to advocate for a more conducive environment for journalists to carry out their work. It is also important to note that female journalists, bloggers and other media actors are disproportionally experiencing gender related threats, harassment and intimidation on the internet which has a direct impact on their safety and their online engagements.
Myth #6 Journalism is a conveyor belt profession.
Fake news is one of the greatest threats to journalism in this age. Journalists depend on social media for reporting, disseminating news, engaging with their audiences and building their profiles. However, journalists, too, have failed in more than one instance for being used as conveyor belts and as a medium to spread fake news. Unverified content and sponsored content by politicians and other news makers plays a great role in tarnishing the media. Designing new laws that restrain protected speech might take a while especially in countries with few democratic controls. Journalists must therefore, say No, to being used as conveyor belts.
Myth #7 Journalism is largely a male dominated field and women who make it to the top positions have slept their way up .
I get a little emotional every time I have to say something about this misconception. The notion that all media women who have made it to the top have slept their way up, is the most incredible abuse to the women folk. I always ask, so they slept their way up, who did they sleep with? So why is it important to say a woman slept her way up yet, we do not mention who she slept with? Isn’t it funny? So before you accuse a woman of sleeping her way up, please be sure to say who she slept with, without which, let’s just say this is pure propaganda aimed at shaming women. I consider this myth a complete lie, so I choose to ignore it right here. Gender stereotyping is an obstacle to women’s professional advancement in all sectors. The position of women in media industry is challenging. It is a matter of being damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Research has it that, despite the fact that more women are making it in the media industry, they are still underrepresented and only a few are occupying seats at the decision making level or areas of influence in media policy. The male dominance is reflected even in the editorial content. Whether intentional or not, sexual objectification of women continues to normalize violence again women. The gender pay gap cannot be overemphasized.
Myth #8 Journalists are party animals and make bad marriage partners.
Well, journalists don’t live in a vacuum. They are human first before anything else. They are prone to all life’s challenges just like any other person. In marriages, they are dealing with and juggling between work and family, loneliness, impotence, unfaithfulness, debts, alcoholism, separation and divorce which are normal struggles that can be experienced by anybody. To lump them in one category and say, they are simply partying their entire life and that they make bad partners is truly an unfair judgment (the nature of the job is fashioned to make journalists party as a way of networking and releasing their pressures, otherwise they will run crazy). There are as many journalists with flourishing family life, just like there are as many journalists with broken families. Such matters are individual choices and personal decisions. The only thing that makes it worse for this profession is the fact that, journalists are dating, getting married, starting a family, getting separated or divorced right before your eyes. At any moment, you feel like you are part of their lives and therefore, you are quick to make judgments.
Myth #9 Journalists die poor.
Ahem! Whether a journalist, a teacher or an architect, if one does not invest for their future, they will definitely die poor. The biggest challenge with journalism lies in the discrepancies in payments across the various media houses. “The first thing MCK should sort out is the question of remuneration. Although 99% of the media outlets in Kenya are privately owned, there is something that MCK can go to regulate what journalists get for their work” pleaded Abed Mwikya on MCK’s Facebook page. This is one of those profession without a SACCO or even a welfare assistance scheme.
For the love of the profession, it is time for journalists to get united and work towards the eradication of these myths as a way of securing the dignity and respect of this noble profession. Unless this is done, this will just be any other profession where every Tom, Dick and Harry can call home.
It’s been a while since you heard from my housemates. What have they been up to? How is life treating them in Cardiff? Is any of them threatening to go back home after a month as winter checks in? I will keep you posted on my next blog post. Every month, I will have a special series entitled- From the Cheveners in Cardiff (See you then)
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