In Summary
  • A reporter should not peddle conjecture, guesswork, supposition or theory. He either brings in sufficient evidence to endorse a position or endorses no position.
  • The media should trust information given by scientists or those in a position to know, as opposed to anti-science theorists with a possible agenda.

  • Journalists have a duty to restrain themselves from subjugating facts and evidence to conjecture for the sake of a sensational headline.

A reader told me he used to enjoy eating fish without a care in the world until he read the story in Wednesday’s Daily Nation which was promoted on the front page with the headline, "Why that fish could be poisonous".

The promo said: “Is the fish Kenyans are consuming from China safe? This is the question in the minds of many following concerns that tonnes of fish and other frozen foodstuffs being imported into the country are being contaminated with cancer-causing radiation at the port of Mombasa.”

PRIMARY ROLE

Food safety is important to all of us, and media-created food scares should not be embarked upon lightly. The primary role of journalists is to inform consumers of potential health risks. However, their reporting should be based on scientific evidence. They should not scare us off food without real evidence.

Now let’s return to the Nation story. The full story was published on page two with the headline, "Concern over cancer risk on imported food".

The food scare is underpinned by the following paragraph: “The Nation has accounts from port officials that all containers entering the country, including those bringing tonnes of foodstuffs like fish from China, are inspected using scanners that emit cancer-causing radiation.”

CUSTOMS CHEATS

The scanning of containers is an old story. The Daily Nation’s sister paper, the Business Daily, reported in October 2015 that Kenya Revenue Authority was banking on the technology to catch customs cheats. The Business Daily also reported in February this year that the Scanner Integration Project, which the Daily Nation story blames for contaminating Chinese fish imports, was largely funded by China.

Ordinarily, I would not fault a story merely because I would have written it differently. No two journalists can report a story exactly the same way. Their write-ups would differ according to their background, age, education, training, culture, worldview and writing style.

EVIDENCE

However, facts are facts, and even two reporters would report those facts more or less the same way.

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