Tuesday, 15 March 2011

legal and ethical issues as well as the application of libel laws in broadcast media

The entry of private players (early 1990) brought revolutionary changes. This was the emergence of the media liberalization. Notably, the change of programs increased. An interactive culture emerged to completely democratize the electronic media space that was hitherto a preserve of the political elite. The increasing number of media outlets especially in the broadcasting sector as well as the cutthroat competition among media outlets, has increased plurality of information.
Despite these positive changes, concerns have been raised regarding the level of professionalism and the ethical conduct of those involved in the sector. This has led to utter disregard of the basic rules of reportage by most of the players. In deed, most of the FM radio and television stations are hiring people who are not trained. This has worsened the situation.
Moreover, the rapid growth of the electronic media in Kenya and the need for trained and qualified personnel has led to mushrooming of third rate back street mass communication schools in Nairobi and major towns whose curriculum and training facilities cannot be vouched for. The result has been the production of half-baked presenters, reporters, camera operators and video editors.
Tumber H. (2000) Media Power, Professionals and Policies, notes that, in their every day lives, journalists make decisions that could have legal or ethical implications whether they are conducting an interview, processing a platform, editing news footage for the bulletin or pressing the delay button during a talkback radio program, journalists are exercising a discretion that might need to be defended in court. They do it because their work involves bringing important news to the public within tight deadlines.
Consequently, this raises our eyebrows, despite this positive changes, concerns have been raised regarding the level of professionalism and conduct of those involved in the sector. Many are concerned that these new stations seem to be trivializing journalism by doing what is fashionable instead of what is right. The Executive Director, Media Council of Kenya, Esther Kamweru, notes that, while some have felt that the media is doing a good job, others have increasingly raised concern over what they see as inaccuracies in reporting, a lack of balance in media stories, dirty language especially through radio and too much focus on the elite singling out the Fm stations and their lack of social responsibility as defined by the profession.
Through FM stations, it is said that the reporting culture, premised on gathering and verifying information is being increasingly overrun by sensational programme formats. Concentrating on information rather than gathering it; chat, speculation, opinion, argument, controversy and punditry as they cost for less than the rigorous process of gathering news – economics of the new media
Primary values of journalism stress accuracy, truthfulness, fairness and balance. These seem to have been disregarded by the new media stations. Presenters are not interested in verifying facts. The principle of keeping facts separate from suspicion and analysis is no longer honoured
. Mutegi Njau, in his, Proliferation of FM radio stations and the danger of Libel and Defamation, justifies this case; the growth of the electronic media has not been concomitant with the development of the training of staff who man the broadcasting stations. This has created challenges in the quality of broadcasting and programs and increased the danger of incurring serious libel and defamation suits.

Read: The media we want: The Kenyamedia vulnerabilities study

On the other hand, the long history of newspapers in the country, mainstream newspaper journalists are relatively more thoroughly grounded in libel and defamation laws than their broadcasting counterparts.
Libel and invasion of privacy Libel and invasion of privacy are two very important issues dealing with broadcast media. The two are very similar but different from each. Libel is a statement in written or in permanent form, where as invasion of privacy deals with how the information was actually gathered. Both have laws to regulate and influence what kind of information is gathered and, how it is actually obtained Libel simply is defamation of character by published word, the publishing of falsities to hurt a person's reputation or standing.
 However, now it is not limited to printed word as in newspapers or magazines. Slander, which is defined as defamation of character by verbal statement or gesture in transient form is now portrayed as a form of libel because of the abundance and power the broadcast spoken word can have as in radio and television.
On the other hand, libel has a stronger penalty than that of slander because print is seen to have a much more long lasting effect, and once something is on paper you cannot take it back. Conversely, with tape recordings and the fact that any spoken defamation can de saved and distributed, radio and TV most times fall in the libel category.
Invasion of privacy have developed along false light, private facts and misappropriates. Journalists need to understand that the public’s right to know often to be weighed against the privacy rights of people in the news. Inquiries into an individual’s private life without the persons consent are not generally acceptable unless public interest is involved. Public interest must itself be legitimate and not merely prurient or morbid curiosity. There are four types of violation of someone's privacy:
 The first one is called intrusion, which is the actual physical violation of someone's privacy, as in trespassing to obtain information.
 The second is appropriation, which is commercial exploitation of a person's image or likeness without consent.
Thirdly is false light, portrays someone in false light or gives false pretences. Lastly is information on private facts, that are actually true but private, and that will severely embarrass or hurt someone's reputation.
Libel is a more serious issue with broadcast media. The worst possible thing a journalist or media outlet can do is to ruin the character of a private person. That is to say it is a much more serious offense to publish false information about some one who is not in the public eye. Subsequently, it is much harder for a public figure to prove libel because he or she must prove actual malice that the medium actually intended to hurt the person with these words.
Moreover, libel is worse because it is the actual publishing or broadcasting of the information that can hurt a person and once it is published you cannot take it back. However, because of this, the idea of false light, private facts and libel are very closely connected here. It's easy to see and understand the ideas of intrusion and appropriation.
In fact many media slightly encourage their reporter to dig up dirt by either trespassing or sneaking around to get information, and as well to use a person's picture without consent. However the two more serious of the privacy laws are very much like that of libel.
Above all, it is the media's job to publish what is true. It is its job to give the audience news and that of truthful news. The most serious concern with the media is that what they reveal to the audience must be true because as a society we are greatly influenced by what we read, hear, and see through the press. This is why libel is more serious than privacy issues.
 Publishing false or inaccurate information directly is the biggest and most devastating thing a journalist or media can do. That is the underlining factor of the two. Publishing private and true embarrassing facts may hurt someone severely, but journalists feel that it is a right for a person in the audience to know the truth. Ethically, the journalist must give the facts. Journalistic ethics understands that the worst possible thing is to give false information. Not only is it ethically wrong, but also, through the law, libel is a bigger problem. In actuality most initial invasion of privacy suits, especially in false light are changed to libel suits because they are more damaging.
Libel suits are very expensive, upwards to millions of shillings just for the cost to defend against a suit. For instance, the Nation Media Group (NMG) had to pay 14 million to Mathioya MP Joseph Kamotho and his sons because of a defamatory matter that was initiated by a caller to the radio breakfast show in 2002. The caller claimed that there was some accident somewhere in the city which involved Mr. Kamotho’s sons who took off from the accident scene. Without verifying the facts, the show presenter went ahead to vilify Mr. Kamotho’s sons in unpalatable terms. Mr. Kamotho and his sons sued the media and won the case.
Often libel and defamatory landmines waiting to explode in on radio and television stations live call-ins are where presenters or journalists call other journalists or news sources in the field.
Broadcasters usually say many things “on air” which are not easy to check and verify to minimize defamatory content in electronic media emanates from the many live “call-ins” that radio and television stations take during interactive talk shows.
Such call-ins are in many cases not vetted or monitored and can be dangerous, particularly if the callers and those being called are not properly grounded on the laws of defamation and libel.
Television news production can also be a source of defamation cases if the reporters and video editors are not careful. Ignorant reporters assume that if they “up sound” a news source in news clips making defamatory statements, they are not liable. Similarly, the choice and editing of video clips may result in a libel suit if the pictures in the clip depict a person in bad light.
Therefore, virtually every story is potentially libelous enough to make any reporter timid. It does not grow from hard-hitting, aggressive reporting of matters of monumental importance. Majority of suits evolve from –to use the news room vernacular stupid, idiotic mistakes, such as failure to copy information correctly from public records. Example, John Jones is found not guilt of aggravated assault, but the reporter hurriedly skims the court records and writes that Jones was found guilty of aggravated assault. (Bruce Itule and Douglas Anderson 2003:389-40)
Moreover, certain explosive words, categories of words, defamation by implication and quotations. Red flag words all lead to libel litigation because harm to reputation is apparent – fawning sycophant, intimate, smuggler, prostitute, mafia among others. Journalists ought to steer clear off many libel suits by scrutinizing the meaning of the words and sentences they write. This is especially to libelous words which include: (1) words imputing the commission of a criminal offence; (2) Words that impute infection with a loathsome communicable disease of any kind that would tend to exclude one from society; (3) words that impute inability to perform or want of integrity in the discharge of duties of office or employment and (4) words that prejudice a particular person in his or her profession or trade.
Reporters and the news medium should know that they are responsible for statements aired or printed. Theodore Peterson in; Four Theories of the Press, writes,
Freedom carries concomitant obligations; and the press which enjoys a privileged position under our government is obliged to be responsible to society for carrying out certain essential functions of mass communication.”
Therefore, the news medium must assume responsibility for the statement if it is used. Misquotations can defame not only third parties whom a speaker mentions but also the quoted speaker. Example, the US Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that deliberate misquotations may injure reputation by attributing harmful assertions to the speaker if the misquotations result in a “material change” in the meaning intended by the speaker.
This aspect implies that, the fact that information was provided by a source does not necessarily mean that it is correct. Journalists should not rely on second hand information, they must verify, check and double check, failing to do so, the reporter invites a libel action. In addition, the journalist should be aware of off-the-record tips passed along by sources; even high ranking officials or law enforcement officers. Always confirm potentially libelous accusations. Prefacing an accusation with the word alleged will not help when you get to court. Example; 
NOT – Police said that the alleged crook is in custody.
YES – Police Said that the man charged with crime is in custody.
in conclusion, one issue that complicates the question of libel cases in the broadcast media is the very rapid rate of technological change. The media are constantly being transformed by technical innovations and forms of technology which were once distinct are now fusing together. For instance; if television programs are watched via the internet, for example, what type of media regulation applies? Gary Krug (2005:19), as technology alters the world in which people live, so also it changes their perception, their thoughts and hence the viability of their previous symbolic orderings of their world. Technology outruns the capacity of law, regulation and other brakes to slow it down.
Priscilla Nyokabi in “Defamation law and press freedom in Kenya” the problem arises when defamation law is abused. Government and its officials may abuse and misuse defamation law to suppress criticism of official wrong doing, maladministration, misconduct in office and corruption to avoid public scrutiny. The law as applied may offend international principals and standards and also the constitution. Our Defamation Act is cap 36 of the laws of Kenya. It is an act of parliament to consolidate and amend the statute law relating to libel, slander and malicious falsehoods. Further, she says that, there is no reason to have criminal libel as it serves to intimidate journalists and gives the state a crime under the penal code to use levy charges against the journalists who touch on sensitive issues. Journalists and the media generally have been brought to court under defamation laws. The courts have been known to award huge awards on defamation suits, awards larger than those awarded for personal injury claims. This serves to muzzle and gag the press. Another way defamation laws lead to curtailment of press freedom is the hanging threats of suits; journalists end up shying away from covering public interest matters for fear of defamation laws.

Frank Ojiambo Wanyama, in “Zero Tolerance on Defamation Unavoidable”,  journalists should also undergo professional training, must read widely, research widely, consult widely and they must fully understand the laws of the land and in particular the law of defamation, for failure will only encourage the government to continue to regulate the media.


Sunday, 13 March 2011

Today

Today....
 I will keep my promises. my debtors will not regret their trust in me.

  • My associates will not question my word.
  • My love will not question my love.
  • And my children will never fear that their father will not come home.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
To these I commit my day.

If I succeed. I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek his grace.
And then, when this day is done, I will place my on my pillow and rest.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Media Ethics and Conflict Sensitive Reporting


My friend and I during the break
I was wandering in my reports concerning the media in Kenya,  I was surprised to come across this 2009 media report. I felt obliged to share it with you, as a key opener to issues that were raised just after the post Election violence after the 2007 General Elections in Kenya. 







MEDIA ETHICS AND CONFLICT SENSITIVE REPORTING TRAINING WORKSHOP HELD AT JUMUIYA GUEST HOUSE, KISUMU FROM 5-7 NOVEMBER, 2009.



The Media Council of Kenya in Partnership with German Development Service (DED) organized a training workshop for journalists working in vernacular and Community Radio Stations in Kenya from 5th – 7th November 2009 at the Jumuia Hotel, Kisumu.





 The objectives of the workshop were:
1.      To improve ethical and professional standards amongst journalists,
2.      To train journalists in applying the code of conduct in their day-to-day duties,
3.      To raise awareness amongst journalists for conflict sensitive reporting and,
4.      To Support journalists in developing strategies on how to implement the above in their daily work and dealing powerfully with constraints, e.g. time pressure, lack of money and corruption.

The following radio stations were presented:
*      West FM radio
*      Radio mambo
*      Radio Nam lolwe
*      Simba radio
*      Radio lake Victoria
*      Mulembe FM
*      KBC radio
*      Egesa Fm
West Fm radio was presented by Mr. David Burudi Indeje and Ms. Sally Kwendo
Those who facilitated the sessions included: Ms. Stefanie Hallberg, Media Advisor, Media Council of Kenya, Mr. Ken Nyaundi, Chairman, Complaints commission, Media Council of Kenya, Mr. Mitch Odero, editor in Chief, Sudan, Mr. Mutegi Njau, editor, Royal Media service and Ms. Grace Githaiga.


OUTCOME FROM THE TRAINING
The two day event justified that, radio is the most important means of mass communication throughout all of Sub-Africa because it interprets reality, induces intentions, desires, behaviors and values. Further, radio creates shared cognitive space, a community of listeners who incorporates its linguistic elements into their everyday lives in both conscious and unconscious ways.
 Based on the above, it was emphasized that language and tribe was the greatest challenge facing community radio stations as they associate the two.


*      Language:
Radio language can serve both as a “reservoir” and “reference point” for ideas of ethnic hatred and violence. The way language is used to disseminate information to listeners should be done with care because it is not passively consumed, but actively re-centered, reinterpreted and re-circulated. Active decoders of media messages, who accept, reject or resist what is conveyed based on their own class position within the society.
Thus, participants were encouraged to champion the interest of the nation through that language with an aim of bringing a variety of languages as an advantage, bringing a whole population on top to equal terms of comprehension by a framing purpose (what exactly do you want to say) and using inclusiveness that does not create or reinforce.

*      Ethics:
Participants were told to adhere to the code of conduct because their main objective is service to the public, we hold the public trust therefore; have the responsibility guided by standards to perform the objective.
As part of understanding the code of conduct, we were informed on some common breaches of conduct and emphasis was on reporting or presenting news and current affairs as honest by disclosing essential facts and the basis of verifying what we have been told. Lastly, we were urged to take the frontline in fighting corruption.

*      Conflict sensitive reporting
Capacity building for the participants was made so as to keenly look at conflict as a challenge that needs to be looked at beyond the frame of the picture. This is because the media have capacity to stimulate violence and bring peace at the same time therefore, urged to be compassionate (deal with humans first, journalism second), be interventionist for a good course and be responsible such that speculation is avoided when conflicts arise.


Above all, we were encouraged to promote common humanity through peace journalism by providing a platform for popular debate on peace, representation of the voiceless, maintain positive relationship of respect and play the role of a reformer with reference to the on -going debate on Truth Justice and Reconciliation, the boundary reforms, the coming referendum on the new constitution, and our role in educating the public on the social implications by engaging them so that they start being inquisitive as a way of understanding the issues.

Conclusion
The workshop proved to be worth emanating from the many issues that were discussed and can be summarized by using Fuckson Banda’s, Rhodes University words:

It is the firmness of our convictions and in the clarity of our social responsibility that we will be able to find the style and vigour necessary for an honorable performance that brings prestige to each one of us and to the journalism profession”.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Challenges facing the radio industry in Kenya today


Today, radio has been one of the fastest growing forms of media, outpacing other traditional media. 

They have become a dominant source of definitions and images of social reality for individuals. But also collectively for groups and societies; we now have very many radio stations in Kenya.
The entry of private players, early 1990, brought revolutionary changes.  This was the emergence of the media liberalization. 

Notably, the change of programs increased. An interactive culture emerged to completely democratize the electronic media space that was hitherto a preserve of the political elite. The increasing number of media outlets especially the broadcasting sector as well as the cut-throat competition among media outlets, has increased plurality of information. 

Nevertheless, the radio industry has not been left behind in this growth. Radio has been credited as a fast broadcast medium. It has stood the test of time, has proved to be a versatile medium one that supplies a good deal of information, entertainment and advertisement.

It is designed to capture audience’s tastes and interests. It is also a flexible medium capable of responding to changes that may come in the future. At present, in financial times, radio enjoys a period of superiority than any other media.

Therefore, the radio industry continues to be the most effective medium of public command.  Thus, radio is beneficial in the following ways:


First, the information functions of radio. Radio is an important electronic mass communication media because: disseminate new information (news worthy), educational and entertaining programmes to the listeners, radio provides regular news updates every hour, opinions and transfer of skills, it is accessible to most people especially in the remote areas by use of small radio sets, mobile phones, watches, writing pens and even torches and it is very ideal for the illiterate and blind as it transmits in sound only.  

Radio messages set the agendas for the nation. Radio may give seriousness, urgency, desperation or play down some issues. Also, the messages set the emotional mood and pitch which issues will be discussed. Thus, reason why the mass media setting the mood must be credible otherwise, the people will dismiss its utterances as mere chattering underlying the reason the TV was referred to as the idiot box.

Radio messages should also be effective at de-sentizing issues which people feel shy and embarrassed to discuss openly. For instance, it is not easy for a parent to sit down with your child and talk about the use of contraceptives.

Secondly, the marketing function of radio. There are certain policies, practices and ideas that would improve the lives of the people if they can be persuaded to adopt them, Matters of home hygiene, nutritional food crops, prudent farm management techniques, self help activities, and immunization amongst others.

Radio program messages are used to market these courses for adoption of practices and ideas of benefit to the people they serve. Consequently, as a marketing function, radio has been able to contribute to research and the body of knowledge that has been utilized by government, organizations and communities by experimenting with and documenting new models for media and technology based initiatives and has been able to address issues of digital divide and the goals of education for all through the creative use of radio, educational broadcasting and on-line education.

Despite these benefits of radio, the radio industry is facing tremendous challenges in its growth. These challenges include:

One, professionalism, concerns have been raised regarding the level of professionalism and the ethical conduct of those involved in the sector. This has led to utter disregard of the basic rules of reportage by most players. In deed most radio stations are hiring people who are not trained. This has worsened the situation.

Moreover, the rapid growth of radio stations in Kenya and the need for trained and qualified personnel has led to mushrooming of third rate back street mass communication schools in Nairobi and major towns whose curriculum and training facilities cannot be vouched for. The result has been the production of half -baked presenters, reporters, camera operators and video editors.

Many are concerned that that the radio industry seem to be trivializing journalism by doing what is fashionable instead of what is right. The former Executive Director, media Council of Kenya, Esther Kamweru, notes that, while some have felt that the media is doing a good job, others have increasingly raised concern over what they see as inaccuracies in reporting, a lack of balance in media stories, dirty language especially through radio and too much focus on the elite singling out the FM stations and their lack of social responsibility as defined by the profession.

Through FM stations, it is said that the reporting culture, premised on gathering and verifying information is being increasingly overrun by sensational programme formats. Concentrating on information rather than gathering it, chat speculation, opinion, argument, controversy and punditry as they cost for less than the rigorous process of gathering news.

Primary values of journalism stress accuracy, truthfulness, fairness and balance. These seem to have been disregarded by the new media stations. Presenters are not interested in verifying facts. The principle of keeping facts separate from suspicion and analysis is no longer honoured.

Mutegi Njau, in his Proliferation of FM radio stations and the danger of libel and defamation, justifies this case; the growth of the electronic media has not been concomitant with the development of the training of staff who man the broadcasting stations. This has created challenges in the quality of broadcasting and programs and increased the danger of incurring serious libel and defamation suits.

Two, content, most radio stations are facing a challenge of what program would appropriately be designed to suit the listener to satisfy the gratification needs. Today, the substance and format of the content is dull, repetitive and hard to follow this is because it lacks sufficient background, as a result difficult to comprehend and therefore become dull.

This challenge has been brought about based on time allotted being termed as inadequate. Radio formats should be attractive where content has to be viewed from the perspective of the total time allotted to each type of program while providing more interactive sessions. However, most radio stations have little to be learned when the content lacks interest and the format is unattractive thus, many listeners switch between stations as a way of trying to escape from repletion.

Srinivas Melkote (2001) in Communication for Development in Third World, notes that, the lack of interest in the content of media messages and consequently individual or group differences in the use and perception, led to a lack of interest in the cognitive dimension of communication effects.
No attempt was made to discover the types of media messages audiences were exposed to, little or no attention was given to the content and quality of information, or knowledge and skills emanating from the messages (Whether the messages were consumable, reliable and efficient, leading to internalization of the messages).

In conclusion, for a region that is closely associated with radio, it is high time the profession was taken serious. Just like marketing, one must have a very clear informed understanding of the consumer’s needs to be able to sustain loyalty.