Editorials are the voice of the newspaper; they should be decent and in good taste

Thursday January 14 2016

Council of Governors Chairman Peter Munya (left) and Nation Media Group (NMG) Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi address the press at the Nation Centre, when he paid Mr Mshindi a courtesy call on September 11, 2015. Mr Mshindi has said NMG editorial decisions are not dictated by politicians or some faceless individuals in backrooms. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Council of Governors chairman Peter Munya (left) and Nation Media Group (NMG) Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi address the press at the Nation Centre when Mr Munya paid Mr Mshindi a courtesy call on September 11, 2015. Mr Mshindi has said NMG editorial decisions are not dictated by politicians or some faceless individuals in backrooms. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By PETER MWAURA
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Many of our readers do not seem to know the difference between an opinion article by a journalist or writer and an editorial, or even the main purpose of an editorial.

I know this from the reader reactions to the publication of the controversial editorial, "Mr President, get your act together this year", in the Saturday Nation of January 2.

Many readers complained about what they described as “censorship” when NMG disciplined the writer of the editorial for not following in-house procedures for the writing of editorials. 

Most of them went online to condemn the disciplinary action explained by Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi in a rejoinder he titled "To our dear readers", which was published online on January 7.

Mr Mshindi said NMG editorial decisions are not dictated by politicians or some faceless individuals in backrooms.

“They are taken by the journalists themselves and always in the interest — not of ourselves — but of our readers as articulated in our editorial policy,” he said.

“To protect that, if the conduct of any of us appears to undermine the open and transparent way we work, we always act and act quickly.”

Of the 32 reader comments posted under the rejoinder, only three seemed to have understood or appreciated what Mr Mshindi was talking about.

All the others saw nothing but censorship and the end of press freedom in Kenya.

A reader named “Worried”, the first to comment and set the tone for subsequent comments, said: “It is called self-censorship…. What is reported to have happened to the sub-editor is a major blow to freedom of the press in Kenya.”

FUNCTIONSOF EDITORIALS
However, the three readers who seemed to understand why the disciplinary action was necessary seemed to understand the reasons very well.

Rut said: “It is common sense if you want to write the way he wrote do it as Denis Galava and not NMG. He knew what he was doing hence he never consulted and went for shortcuts. People have written worse opinions but they should attribute it to themselves.”

From the online comments and the feedback I received from callers, it is clear our readers understand little or nothing of the editorial process as well as what is an editorial and its main purpose, use, and meaning. 

An editorial is the authoritative voice or opinion of the newspaper or news organisation, not merely of the person who writes it.

Typically, an editorial is an opinion formed as a result of a consensus among senior editors, editorial writers, or editorial board on issues that are considered important for their readers.

An editorial seeks to explain, analyse, criticise or praise, and influence public opinion. Sometimes it is published on the front page when the issue is particularly hot and important.

Though an editorial is an opinion, it is based on research, analysis, facts, and evidence and it makes a point worth making.

The language it is clothed in must also be civil.

EDITORIAL WRITING

It is supposed to be sober and dignified. It expresses an opinion without being opinionated, and it is never an occasion for name-calling.

It also takes into account the other side of the argument. 

Like most newspapers, NMG has established a protocol on how editorials are processed. 

The protocol was not always there. In 1977, then Editor-in-Chief George Githii published a polemical editorial on the Shia Bohra community and, citing interference with editorial independence, refused to publish a corrective piece by the owner of the Nation.

Instead, he chose to resign. Since then, the Nation established clearly defined rules on the writing of editorials.

NMG editorials must base their conclusions on demonstrable and comprehensive research and be balanced, constructive, and informative and represent the authoritative voice of NMG and not only that of the writers, the policy says.

“They will not be spiteful, prejudiced, propagandist or extremist; they will avoid the bizarre and offensive and will always maintain standards of decency and good taste. Wording should be temperate and non-inflammatory.”