I was once asked by a news source I approached where our future as journalists really lied. The answer to this question is really broad. It needs hours and hours of explanation for anyone to give any substantial response.
I will not answer this question now. As I have said, it needs hours and hours of explanation. It is rather easier to discuss some of the challenges that may be perceived to counter prosperity of the Fourth Estate. Understanding these can at least be the summarized version of ‘Where Does the Future of Journalism Really Lie?’
Lack of guide on the principles of reporting affects the media industry to a great extent. Often we view footages of humans caught in compromising situations. One of such clips involved an apparently married woman actually assaulting a lady who was apparently found having an affair with the husband. The victim of the assault must have been lied to by the man that he was unmarried. The lady was removed off her clothes and beaten in front of the tenants of the plot, where the scene occurred. Instead of the people intervening and stopping the embarrassment to the innocent lady, they were laughing as others recorded the scene for ‘sharing.’ Another such scene was during the fifth Devolution Conference of 2018 in Kakamega when people shared an embarrassing clip of the Deputy Governor who was apparently having an affair outside his wedlock.
In their formulation of the principle of utility, Philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill called upon the media practitioners to always determine what is right or wrong by considering what will yield the best ration of good to bad for the general society. The two basically ask how much good is promoted and how much evil is restrained by different courses of behaviour. It can be argued that exposing perpetrators of marital standards, such as the examples of the lady and the Deputy Governor will serve to deter people from any such practices. But still, there is need to weigh the psychological harm caused to the victims and their families at large. These are the kinds of updates existing in the industry that is striving to promote utmost social order.
Direct threats from perceived ‘supreme powers’ is another hindrance to the bright future of media industry. Shut-down of the prominent television stations in Kenya earlier this year may just insinuate the reality that the editors should be free enough to perform their role of gatekeeping. The anti- constitutional shutdown of Citizen Tv and its affiliate Inooro Tv, KTN News and NTV by the government followed the contested ‘swearing in’ of leader of the opposition coalition, NASA. Such moves can really scare those who are aspiring to prosper in the fourth estate.
Media industry is expanding rapidly. And the question that really needs to be asked is whether there is proportional development in the regulations monitoring its practice. Just like judiciary, the fourth estate is one sector that needs to be indisputably independent. This is not being achieved with the increased number. Media houses have turned to be platforms where interested parties uncontrollably air opinions rather than reporting pure facts. Most vernacular stations, for example, lack their own journalists. The few employed individuals in them depend on contacts of their friends back in the society who merely call to report unverified events. It is surprising that those unverified news get time in the prime broadcasts.
These stations maybe should consider distinguishing the facts from opinions for their trusted customers. A Ugandan based radio station has set aside time just for opinionated updates from the listeners. This session comes immediately after the prime updates. The callers are asked to give their names, location and the update they have. After the updates, the organization actually warns the listeners that those were mere views of the respective callers, but not the views held by the organization or the employees of the organization.
With the rapid growth and competition, the industry has to demand so much from its employees. Journalists are called upon to have the best of the skills. And it is a doubt if media schools are actually giving out the best of the skills to its students. As opposed to earlier in life when most of us were growing, it is hard today to see someone staying for an enough long time with an organization. They keep on being replaced. It is due to the dynamic nature the industry is adopting. A new trend in the industry means the existing practitioners, lacking the new skill, will have to be replaced by a more updated one.
To wrap up this outline, it is necessary to look at how the social media determines the course of the entire field of media. Whereas the social media (especially Twitter) has to be commended to set the agenda for the mainstream media, it has its dire effects. When the organizations regulate the contents fed to the public, as required by the laws governing the media practice, social media is actually airing everything. Blurring images of victims of fatal accidents or sexual assaults is legally required. Which the mainstream media does, but not the social media. Of course no one will choose regulated content over the ‘full-free content.’ What happened to anti-cyber-crime campaigns?