Just over two weeks ago I received a complaint from traffic police officers in Molo that a Nation cameraman had approached them, saying he had taken their pictures while they were taking bribes from motorists.
He told them the video clip would be shown on national television unless they gave him some money to give to his editors in Nairobi to stop its airing. (The man turned out to be a freelance photographer who also supplied photographs and video clips to other media houses.)
It was an interesting complaint because the officers were calling, not to deny that they were collecting bribes, but to complain that it was unethical for a journalist to ask for money so as to stop the publication of a story.
“We would like to bring forward to your attention that some of your journalists in Nakuru county are breaking the code of ethics by engaging in corruption practices and hope that your office will take a bold move and intervene.”
The implication was that they may or may not have taken bribes. But I was not really interested in that question, nor were they, apparently.
The critical question was, according to the complaint, that a person they believed was a Nation reporter had asked for money in order to stop the publication of a story.
That alone was unethical. And that is the message the Molo police officers were trying to communicate. They must be good readers of the NMG Editorial Policy and Guidelines.
“We understand that the Nation Media Group stands on integrity and truth and we look forward that the issue will be investigated to restore honesty and professionalism,” they said.
They even gave me the telephone number of the alleged journalist and details of how they put the money together for the bribe.
“As officers, when the allegations and demand for money to stop publication of the news item were made, we asked the cameraman to negotiate with the editors since the sum they were demanding was too high.
At around 2.20pm the cameraman claimed that the editors had agreed that we give out Sh20,000.
Being a weekend, some of my colleagues were out of office but the few who were present held a small harambee and raised the money, which we gave the cameraman who promised to channel it to the said editors.”
The police officers showed genuine concern for ethical and professional journalism.
“As a department we are worried since we have been assisting area journalists with timely information about traffic - when an accident occurs we call them and help them access the scene,” they told me.
When I related this to a Nation editor, her initial reaction was to suspect that the Molo police simply wanted the journalist out of their way by getting him sacked.
And what better way of doing that than accusing him of asking for bribes!
But further investigation by the NMG editorial manager found that indeed there was a video clip of traffic officers caught on camera receiving bribes.
But the picture was taken by another cameraman from another media house.
The role of the freelancer was to help the police send the cash to the other cameraman, who was based in Nakuru and who allegedly solicited the money.
The NMG ruled that the freelance cameraman was “an accomplice” and stopped him from contributing any materials to the Nation with immediate effect.
NMG operates a policy of zero-tolerance to “brown envelope” journalism.
Last year, NMG ran a series of advertisements in which it said: “We would like to emphasise that NMG editors, reporters, correspondents, and photographers are expressly barred from soliciting, accepting money or any form of payment or inducement for publication of news, opinion, or features.”
To ask for a bribe not to report a negative story is equally unethical and morally reprehensible.
The Molo police, even though they might have taken bribes, were quite right to complain.
Extortion is a crime. In the case of the Molo incident, it is punishable by up to three years imprisonment.
Send your complaints to [email protected] Call 3288000, mobile 0721989264