While misinformation has previously been reported and recorded since the early days of miscommunication, recent times have seen it become rampant causing a worrying trend. The recent doctored video that sparked the internet purporting Murang’a Senator, Irungu Kang’ata attended a Senate sitting virtually while in an establishment that sells alcohol left several major media houses in Kenya exposed for disseminating unverified information.
The manipulated video gave the impression that the senator attending logged into the Senate proceedings while in a popular nightclub in Nairobi – Sabina Joy. On responding to the claims, Kang’ata disclosed that on on Tuesday (14th September 2021) – when the fake video was taken – he was making his remarks in Parliament, asking about the payment owed to dairy farmers in Murang’a and not at the alleged club. He also refuted the claims saying that he has never taken alcohol and that such trumped up accusations were being propagated by his competitors. While monitoring the proceedings we could in fact confirm that the ‘inappropriate’ location that Speaker Kenneth Lusaka referred to, was the Senator’s car that was within the precincts in Parliament. This goes against the House’s standing orders that require one to virtually attend proceedings only within an office.
So, getting it first or getting it right? This is a vital question that many media outlets in the country should consider especially in the age of social media where news stories such as the reports of breaking news events, are likely to be inaccurate. This has been a never-ending debate going on in breaking and emergency news coverage; whether to get it right or to get it first. With the evolution of the technology and things like deep fake videos cropping up on the internet, it becomes crucial for the fourth estate to verify and authenticate to separate fact from rumor. This incident comes barely few years down the line when the media particularly the community-based radio stations were accused and charged with inciting violence through the dissemination of hate speech in the 2007 post-election violence. The Kang’ata incident exposes gaps in the media and non-compliance of media ethics when the country is just about to usher in an electioneering period that promises to be highly competitive.
Article 34 of the Kenyan constitution grants the freedom and independence of electronic, print and all other types of media. However, the freedom does not extend to propaganda for war, incitement to violence (ethnic incitement, discrimination) and hate speech. It is best for the mainstream media to understand that it is always better to be late to report the story than to report it first and get the facts wrong as was evident in Senator Kang’ata’s story. Misreporting information due to haste to report can mean having to embarrassingly apologize later as some major media houses were forced to. Even then a lot of irreparable damage to one’s reputation may have been caused. Therefore, getting evident-based news from the relevant sources is key and can help cement the reputation of the respective organization.
The incident should act as a wakeup call to all the mainstream media in Kenya that any potential news story sourced from social media needs to be verified before being published on their platforms that command huge audiences.
“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on,” Winston Churchill. May the media stand in the light of truth as they exercise their mandate.