October 6, 2013


‘Fifth Columnist’, Philip Ochieng, accuses Kenyan media of duping readers. He calls for higher standards; maybe he should check his own back-yard.

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‘Fifth Columnist’, Philip Ochieng, accuses Kenyan media of duping readers

‘Fifth Columnist’, Philip Ochieng, accuses Kenyan media of duping readers

Mr Philip Ochieng writes the weekly ‘Fifth Columnist’ article in the Sunday Nation. His articles are nearly always worth reading, being very well written, cogently argued and most often thought-provoking.

Mr Ochieng is a ‘veteran journalist’ who has been about a bit and been around a while (he was part of the Mboya/Kennedy ‘airlift’ in 1959), the author of ‘I accuse the press: An insider’s view of the media and politics in Africa’ (published 1992). He is a Mzee of the printed word to whom the Kenya Forum will afford all due respect. Even so, the Forum calls Philip Ochieng to task.


It was in last week’s Sunday Nation ‘Fifth Columnist’ article entitled ‘Reprimand media who blatantly dupe their readers’, that Philip Ochieng levelled his literary gun barrels (and quite rightly so) at newspapers that publish misleading headlines.

An incidence of this he cited was a headline that thoroughly misrepresented CORD leader Raila Odinga, stating that ‘Raila names a cabinet’ on its front page only to direct readers to an inside page in which the headline read ‘Raila names 30 MPs in Cord kitchen cabinet’ under which the story was actually that he was expected to name his shadow cabinet next week. For this Philip Ochieng accused the headline writer of ‘cheating’ and the Kenya Forum agrees.


In support of his argument Philip Ochieng quoted Karl Krauss who condemned “the pseudo-facts of newspaper headlines” in the Western media. Indeed it was at the door of some of these Western newspapers that Ochieng laid some of the blame for the practice of ‘cheating with headlines’.

He wrote: ‘We, in Anglophone Africa, owe to London’s Fleet Street the whole habit of using non-stories to spread negative propaganda – often both to help a ruling group to bludgeon the people into submission by means of a set of falsities and oppressive ideas and, in the same process, to enable the media houses concerned to boost their sales’. Again, quite so, says the Kenya Forum.

‘The question for Kenya’s Media Council is’, Philip Ochieng concluded his article, ‘Didn’t somebody assure us only recently that those who sell fake goods would be dealt with ruthlessly?’ The Kenya Forum thinks they did.


This however, is the Kenya’s Forum’s question for Mr Philip Ochieng: If you came across an incidence of where your own media house, The Nation Group, had published a headline that utterly misrepresented a very important story it purported to be reporting, would you publicly stand up to put that wrong right?


Regular readers of the Kenya Forum may recall that in May of this year we drew attention to perhaps the most misleading headline to have been published in many a year in Kenya. In what was a clear case of ‘cheating with headlines’, the Nation staunchly refuse to rectify or change their misreporting on the TJRC’s findings in the Robert Ouko murder saga.


The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) had stated in its report a ground-breaking conclusion of historical importance regarding one of the theories as to why Dr Robert Ouko, Kenya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, had been murdered in February 1990: the ‘Washington trip’ theory.

In the ‘Washington trip’ theory it was claimed that during a visit to the USA in late January and early February 1990, Dr Ouko had been feted by the American administration and met with President George Bush Snr whilst President Moi was snubbed, an act that so infuriated the latter and his supporters that it could have led to Ouko’s murder.

It was a theory based on the testimony of two people who had not been on the Washington trip, a theory much embroidered over the years, and a theory that it was, and is, quite easily proved to be utter nonsense. In effect President Bush, the US Embassy in Nairobi, everybody on the trip and all those associated with arranging the visit, confirmed that no such meeting took place.


The TJRC had access to this information, as had other enquiries in the past. However, to the immense credit of the Commissioners (and there was much in their report and actions that was not to their credit), and unlike earlier investigations, the TJRC actually had the courage to write the truth, at least on this one point.

At paragraph 131 of Volume IIA, Chapter 4, of the TJRC’s report, the Commissioners stated that: ‘In addition, the Washington theory revolves around a private meeting with President Bush and Ouko that never actually occurred’.

(For more facts on what actually happened, on what is provable in the whole Robert Ouko saga read: ‘Murder of Dr Robert Ouko: what really happened‘)


It was as unequivocal a statement as you can find: there was no meeting between Bush and Ouko during the Washington trip and therefore the cause of the supposed row (that nobody on the trip, or involved with it, knew anything about) did not occur and so that false theory falls down.

How did the Daily Nation cover this dramatic finding the next day (May 24) on its front Page? ‘Dr Ouko was killed not long after a US trip in which he had audience with President Bush but President Moi was left out’.

In short, the Daily Nation reported the exact opposite of the TJRC’s finding on the Washington trip theory.

Here is our initial posting on the mismatch between the TJRC findings and how the Nation chose to report it: ‘TJRC report, and is Robert Ouko’s murder being covered up?’


So Mr Ochieng, how wrong and misleading can a headline be? Was there ever such a clear case of ‘cheating with headlines’ in your vast experience? Does not the importance and significance of the subject matter also add to the gravity of the error in misreporting it? It’s not as if the Daily Nation just got a football score wrong. Was it poor reporting, an editing failure, or conspiracy to pervert the course of truth and justice? Shouldn’t the Daily Nation be reprimanded?

The Kenya Forum will read next week’s ‘Fifth Columnist’ article with interest.


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