Sunday, 5 September 2010

Kenyan KTN follows in footsteps of TIME

KTN logo
A row that seems to have some parallels with a recent issues involving TIME magazine of the USA has raised questions about ethics and competence of reporters and editors at Kenya's premier television, KTN.

The issue revolves around a three-part ten-minute each series on human trafficking that the station, owned by The Standard, Kenya's oldest newspaper, aired last week; in English and Kiswahili.

In the story, KTN reporters are seen on the video chasing supposed illegal Somali immigrants and, with some women running away. 

After the KTN investigative series, a bitter uproar has escalated. The station has said reporters and senior staff have received serious threats about the story. Also, serious complaints about the reports have been raised. The complainants are saying the stories targeted the Somali people as well as Muslims. In an editorial before the main news on 4 September, KTN said it is investigating if its reporters went beyond normal journalism practice.

On KTN official Facebook page, many people criticized the station on how the story was packaged.

''KTN, we want to know apart from chasing and harassing a few elderly women, what else did jicho pevu (the news series) achieve in the last episode?,'' a Facebook user wrote on KTN wall. Another user asked, ''If it was Americans who had been found entering Kenya illegally, would this have been a hot issue as this?''.

And on the evening of 4 September, a Facebook page asking largely Muslims and Somalis to boycott KTN and Standard newspapers was created. 

''BOYCOTTING KTN'' on!/group.php?gid=150452498310626&v=wall is the group that had 130 members by midday on 5 September Nairobi time.

A recent posting said: ''Dear brothers and sisters in Islam please all I ask that you email the boss at KTN Standard Group and voice our complaints against biased coverage that is inciting the public against Muslims and Somalis in particular.''

This blog submits that indeed there were ethical issues that the reporters should have reviewed. In all fairness, KTN should do a thorough review the capacity of editors to notice issues of unethical reportage.

A recent TIME magazine issue can best illustrate how important it is for journalists to remain focused on the story and be fair to both sides.
Controversial TIME cover
Early last month, TIME (global edition) published a disturbing cover photo of Aisha, a 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws.  ''Aisha posed for the picture because she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan,'' TIME said.

Her picture was accompanied by a powerful story on how Afghan women have embraced the freedoms that have come from the defeat of the Taliban — and how they fear a Taliban revival.

The headline of the TIME next to the portrait read: ''What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan''. Please notice that there was no question mark. And that is where the issue of ethics started.

Critics of the American presence in Afghanistan have called it '“emotional blackmail” and even “war porn,” while those who fear the consequences of abandoning Afghanistan see it as a powerful appeal to conscience.

1. Without a question mark, the statement means ''this is what will happen if American marines leave Afghanistan. Women abuses will come back…'' Richard Stengel, TIME, Managing Editor had to publish a lengthy article to explain, but it did not help.

''I felt that the image is a window into the reality of what is happening — and what can happen — in a war that affects and involves all of us. I would rather confront readers with the Taliban's treatment of women than ignore it. I would rather people know that reality as they make up their minds about what the U.S. and its allies should do in Afghanistan''.

2. The picture itself is disturbing. The managing editor said ''I'm acutely aware that this image will be seen by children, who will undoubtedly find it distressing. We have consulted with a number of child psychologists about its potential impact. Some think children are so used to seeing violence in the media that the image will have little effect, but others believe that children will find it very scary and distressing … I apologize to readers who find the image too strong, and I invite you to comment on the image's impact''.

This issue probably gives KTN some reprieve; that even TIME can make a mistake. Though with TIME, it may have been an issue of deliberate slant.

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