By Committing Journalism Sin, Kenyan Media Threatens to Lose Public Trust

dailynation

The influential American publisher, Henry Luce, once said: “I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world.” That statement captures the essence of journalism. The relationship the media creates by connecting masses of people, minute by minute, to the issues that matter in their daily lives, is invaluable to communities across the world.

That trust, founded on the principles of integrity, impartiality and truth, is sacred. If betrayed, the media loses its essential role of informing, educating and entertaining the public.

And there’s no time that this loss of trust is more evident amongst Kenya’s media than with the response to the Sahan Journal article revealing how Daily Nation lifted quotes and paragraphs  from Sabahi Online.

But a close examination of Kenyan media reveals that this trend of copying and pasting is ubiquitous, with so-called journalists aggregating content by lifting not only complete sentences from another article, but also altering ideas, quotes and sources altogether.

The problem here epitomizes the structural issues afflicting the Kenyan media, and knocks on the doorsteps of leading media institutions, who have parlayed their journalism into money and image. The problem of plagiarism in Kenya also conflates a number of different issues, and makes us understand how by scraping content, intelligent debate and erudite thinking is in return missing from the larger public arena.

This trend, of copying content from other writers’ articles without credit or attribution, has almost become the norm among the leading newspaper in Kenya.

Sahan Journal can reveal just two recent instances where the two largest newspapers in the country, the Daily Nation and the Standard, have both plagiarized from each other or from other news websites.

On Sept. 24, three days after the Westgate attack, the Standard published a story sourcing the police and detailing how the attackers “may have been tenants” in the mall. The story, in all likelihood, had a discerning similarity to one published by the Daily Nation on Sept. 21.

In his article, Daily Nation reporter Carlos Mureithi noted the frequent threats facing Israeli-owned businesses in Kenya, including Westgate.

The last few paragraphs of his story read:

However, yesterday wasn’t the first time the shopping centre has been associated with a security incident.

In July last year, two Iranian terror suspects were arraigned in court on accusations of possessing explosives.

Ahmed Mohamud and Said Mausud had been found with 15 kilogrammes of RDX explosives.

International media quoted the Israeli minister who said that the two Iranians had planned to attack Israeli, American, British or Saudi targets inside Kenya.

Westgate Shopping Mall is one of several Israeli-owned businesses in Kenya.

Four days later, journalist Cyrus Ombati from the Standard wrote this sentences which were very similar, both in structure and wording, to Mureithi’s:

In July last year, two Iranian terror suspects were arraigned in court on charges of possessing explosives.

Ahmed Mohamud and Said Mausud had been found with 15kg of RDX explosives.

International media quoted an Israeli minister saying that the two Iranians had planned to attack Israeli, American, British or Saudi targets inside Kenya.

This purloining has also gone as far as copying content from international media. I was even a victim of plagiarism, when I recently got a copy of the Daily Nation paper as I commuted to work, and found out that one of its journalists had stolen my content without giving me due credit.

The Daily Nation piece, titled “Study ties jigger menace to battery,” and published on May 1, 2013, contained a few paragraphs resembling to my article, “In Kenya, violence against men rises,” which I wrote for the United Press International in June 2012.

Here are two paragraphs from my article:

But in recent months, Nyeri has become the epicenter of a troubling social phenomenon: male battering.

A recent survey of Central and Nairobi provinces by the male advocacy group Maendeleo ya Wanaume (“Progress for Men”) found 460,000 cases of domestic abuse against men, up from 160,000 cases in 2009.

Almost a year later, a reporter with the Daily Nation plagiarized my piece word by word:

Nyeri, one of the counties in central Kenya, has become the epicentre of a troubling social phenomenon: male battering.

A recent survey in Central and Nairobi regions by the male advocacy group, Maendeleo ya Wanaume, found 460,000 cases of domestic violence against men, up from 160,000 cases in 2009.

My article also states:

The rise in the incidences of male battering dovetails with an increase in alcohol dependence among males aged 25-34.

In a recent national survey, many males in the age group stated they consumed illicit brews in the hours before noon, which historically are considered the most productive hours of the day.

The Daily Nation reporter followed up by writing:

However, the rise in male battering cases dovetails into an increase in alcohol dependence among males aged 25-34 years.

In a recent national survey, many males in that age group said they consumed alcohol in the hours before noon, which are considered the most productive hours of the day.

Besides, we should not forget the brouhaha that followed when Caroline Mutoko, the prominent Star newspaper columnist, who plagiarized much of her Monday column from a blog post. Even when The Star’s former Public Editor Karen Rothmyer wrote to Caroline asking about the accusations of plagiarism, the radio personality and columnist did not even blink an eye:

“I will not apologize or respond to nonsense that tries to imply I may have borrowed something from the Internet,” she wrote in an email to Rothmyer. “I borrow from everywhere around me-cocktail parties I go to, baby showers, I borrow from drunkards, thieves, cab drivers and my housekeeper- I borrow from the lines of songs I listen to and tweets I read and even posts on Nicki Minaj’s FB wall….I am no copy cat – I am the original and I’m different and that’s tough for some people to take.”

If we can take one lesson from Mutoko’s story, it is that the Internet doesn’t forget and neither should you. Social media has become an important tool for instantly detecting, informing and correcting mistakes that previously would have waited for a correction on print in a traditional media outlet – perhaps days later. After all, wasn’t Caroline’s plagiarism exposed by a university student merely accustomed to the ways of social media?

By plagiarizing, the media fraternity are just digging their own grave deeper. By not checking the facts in a story, a reporter’s sources, and his or her analysis of a given story, Kenya’s media enforces the old adage that “creativity is great, but plagiarism is faster.” This notion doesn’t help the media, in a country where the media have a considerable amount of freedom to report and inform.

It also doesn’t help the journalists, who as Henry Luce envisioned, are expected to get to heart of the story, and report the first rough draft of history.

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