alexa Journalists can help in stamping out ageism in national discourse - Daily Nation

Journalists can help in stamping out ageism in national discourse

Thursday January 23 2020

Kenya Constitution

In Article 57, the Constitution says the rights requires the State to take measures to ensure the rights of older persons. PHOTO | YASUYOSHI CHIBA | AFP 

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Amos Ogoti has written to protest what he says are ageism practices in the Nation.

“I don’t understand why the Nation is violating the Constitution by publishing discriminatory articles against old people being appointed to government jobs,” he writes. “You should stop violating the rights of senior citizens.”

The term ageism — discriminating people unfairly on account of their age — was first used in 1969 by Robert Butler, an American psychiatrist.

He used the term during an interview with the Washington Post. He said there were long-standing prejudices and palpable class biases in American society fuelled by an animus against age.

“Ageism can be seen as a systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish this with skin colour and gender,” he says elsewhere in his scholarly writings on the subject.

He popularised the term so much that, in 1969, it appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. Just as it was the media that popularised the term, it’s in the media that ageism can be defeated.



The media can help put an end to ageism by changing people’s perceptions about older persons.

It can do this by adopting a policy on hate speech, prohibiting singling out individuals on the basis of their age.

Media has the potential to reinforce the positive aspects of ageing. For example, they can publish positive images and stories of senior citizens who lead active lives and contribute to society.

A good example is the life story of Charles Njonjo, who celebrated 100 years of age yesterday. The media can also call out against those who practise ageism.

A good example of this is the commentary, published on December 10, 2019, in the Daily Nation by Dorothy Kweyu, a retired Nation journalist and now a consultant revise editor.

In the article titled “Ageism gaining root in the guise of tackling lack of jobs for youth”, Ms Kweyu relates how, as she watched on television Parliament vet the Controller of Budget-designate Margaret Nyang’ate Nyakang’o, she “felt saddened and angry at the extent to which we have become an ageist society.

I felt saddened that MPs should be harping on Dr Nyakang’o’s age as they vetted her suitability for the post and treat the high professional and academic credentials she brings to the office as a ‘by the way’. As they dwelt on how she will be above the retirement age of 60 by the end of an eight-year tenure, it didn’t matter that Dr Nyakang’o holds a doctorate in business administration.”


Ageism violates constitutional rights. In Article 57, the Constitution says the rights requires the State to take measures to ensure the rights of older persons.

The rights include the right “to fully participate in the affairs of society”, “to pursue their personal development”, and “to live in dignity and respect and be free from abuse”.

The NMG editorial policy does not specifically prohibit ageism but, in effect, it does if we read its anti-discrimination clause constructively.

The clause says: “In general, the media should avoid prejudicial or pejorative references to a person’s race, tribe, clan, religion, sex or sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness, handicap or political orientation.”

It’s with that construction in mind that I’ve viewed the complaint by Mr Ogoti. However, he is, in fact, blaming the Nation as the messenger, the bearer of bad news.

Blaming the messenger may be justified when the messenger comments on the news he bears. That seems to be the case in the Saturday Nation editorial of January 18, 2020.


Titled “Merit, equity should underline public jobs”, it celebrates a court decision that nullified the appointment of former Othaya MP Mary Wambui as the chairperson of the National Employment Authority on the ground that she is not qualified for the job.

It says that “given her age, she was not suitably placed to understand and empathise with the challenges of the unemployed youth, whom she was supposed to serve”, and that “having served as an MP and being 69, it was unfair to give her a job and leave out young, deserving people”.

Those comments are ageistic, even though the editorial, taken as a whole, is arguing for “meritocracy as a principle in public service appointments” as well as “equity and fairness”.

It’s clear that the Nation cannot afford to be seen as if it’s promoting ageism.

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