The craze in media circles these days is how to deal with fake news. Donald Trump has popularised this fad and both media scholarship and praxis have jumped on board. Recently, there have been endless seminars on this subject. But probably what we need to be worried most about, in Kenya, is how to deal with fake journalists.
There is no shortage of this breed at any press conference or public event. They show up early armed with a pen and notebook. Sometimes they have a press card as well and would identify with a media house that they know is yet to be represented at the event. To avoid suspicion they identify with a known brand.
They sit through a media function and may even throw in a question or two. Then they make a bee line for the refreshment table and demand for clarification and facilitation from the news source. Once they are satisfied then they match out to wait for the next event.
At a recent press conference, a host of them showed up. It was not long before they lined up for the coffee table and would not listen to pleas for prayers for the refreshments. They, of course, came from no media house and did not file any story. The challenge is the credible journalism industry has done nothing to address this menace that gives the craft a bad name.
Yet journalism is fairly regulated in this country. To start with every journalist must be registered at the Media Council of Kenya and have a card to prove it. Secondly, journalists should be affiliated to a media house for which they work and should carry an identifying card from the employer.
Thirdly, it is not that there are too many journalists in town that they would not easily know one another. Journalists themselves should easily tell fakes from the genuine ones. But this has not happened, instead people who tell no story but occupy that space crowd this story telling skill.
The media is adept at pointing out the challenges in society but is failing to decidedly deal with the plague of fake journalists in their midst. Most newsmakers have no way of knowing who is who and have to believe the individuals streaming in at a media function are authentic and the identification documents they carry are genuine. There is a relationship of trust.
Given the widespread nature of this challenge in our society it is a surprise that the industry is not taking some decisive measures to deal with it. First, the media ought to focus attention on the fake journalists so that news sources are educated and know how to identify the fake ones.
Secondly, there must be a way of ensuring the documents identifying journalists cannot be easily replicated. But even more importantly, genuine journalists know the fake ones among themselves.
To protect their craft journalists attending a function should identify those they know and whose identities are in doubt and have them barred from ‘covering’ events.
New reporters should systematically be introduced to the pool of reporters to keep the fake ones at bay. A systematic way must be found to deal with the pretenders to the wielding of the power of the pen. Writer is the Dean, School of Communication at Daystar University