Errors made by reporters, as well as judges, should be corrected

Friday October 6 2017

Kenya's Supreme Court judges before delivering a detailed ruling laying out their reasons for annulling last month's presidential election in Nairobi on September 20, 2017. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kenya's Supreme Court judges before delivering a detailed ruling laying out their reasons for annulling last month's presidential election in Nairobi on September 20, 2017. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

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In a story about Naivasha, Nation journalist Julliet Mutegi referred to Naivasha in her copy as Naivegas, a nickname intended to convey the idea of a town resort in the image of the American city of Las Vegas famed for its entertainment and 24-hour casinos.

The story, “Young or old, Naivasha is your perfect getaway” was published on May 19, 2015, on page 2 of the DailyNation under the ‘My Beautiful Kenya’ series. But a sub-editor had changed the nickname Naivegas to “Naxvegas”, which is the nickname for Nakuru. Julliet was so upset by the change that she asked for a correction and when the editor refused she complained to me.

The editor was adamant, and the issue died a natural death. But after Julliet died on September 2, 2017, Saturday Nation editor Ng’ang’a Mbugua wrote an endearing piece about Julliet published on September 5, in which he referred to the complaint. He said he declined to make a correction because the error “was not sufficient to warrant a correction”.

 So I asked Mr Mbugua to elaborate for the benefit of readers. “The term ‘vegas’ associates an event or place with Las Vegas, the city where everything goes,” he said. “A correction in this instance would not have served a public interest. The term ‘Naivegas’ is not familiar to readers, so carrying a correction would not have helped much. Secondly, it is an informal reference.


“Usually, a correction has to serve a public interest. For instance, if we publish a photo of someone but get the name wrong, it is in public interest to make a correction. This is also done when a source disputes information attributed to him. We have to talk to the journalist and have to convince ourselves that he misquoted the source. If, however, we confirm that the journalist quoted the source correctly, we do not offer a correction. However, we give the source the opportunity to set the record straight.

 “In the case you refer to, a sub-editor changed the word ‘Naivegas’ by which the writer had meant ‘Naivasha’ to the more familiar ‘Naxvegas’, which generally means ‘Nakuru’.

 “These were the grounds on which I turned down the request for a correction. However, I did ask the digital team to correct the article published online. When I checked Twitter, I realised why the writer had asked for the correction. A reader had criticised the reference and there was a risk of the tweet being shared by others. This was prevented when we corrected the story published online.”

 Fair enough. What’s important is to ensure that readers are not misinformed.


Judges, too, make mistakes.

To err is human. Journalists are not alone in making mistakes that include misspelling, incorrect names, grammar and errors of fact. Judges make them, too.


This is well demonstrated in the Supreme Court judgment on the Raila Odinga petition delivered on September 21. With the exception of Justice Jackton Ojwang’s dissenting opinion—God bless my former law professor -- the judgment is pockmarked with errors. A look at the Kenya Law Reports, the official archives of judgments, also shows errors made by judges are common.

I will just pick a few errors in the Supreme Court judgment.  The judgment refers to “unsinged” forms (Are these forms that passed through walls of flame but were unsinged by the heat?).

It refers to retired South Africa Judge Johann Kriegler variously as “Kriegler” and  “Krieglar”, Raila Odinga’s middle name variously as “Amolo” and “Amollo”, and Uganda Supreme Court Judge Tibatemwa Ekirikubinza’s first name as “Lilian” instead of Lillian. Annexures are referred to as  “annextures”, differences as “diffences”, and Secretary General as “Secretary Generay”.

 Judges, like journalists, cannot hide their errors. They parade them in public. The errors should be corrected. In journalism, correcting errors fosters greater public trust. In judicial writing, failure to correct errors scandalises the judges as sloppy and lazy, which undermines their authority.


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