US ambassador Kyle McCarter gave journalists a gift of thanksgiving turkey (or turkeys) last week.
And he personally carved it in their newsrooms. The hearty partakers of the turkey fest will almost certainly confront me: “What’s your problem? Yes, I devoured the turkey. But that doesn’t change anything. I’ll continue to report professionally, without bias.”
Fair enough. Tea, with or without mandazi, given at a news conference is harmless. So is a cup of coffee taken in an office with a news source.
But a gift of America’s big bird – almost the price of a goat– should not be accepted from persons or organisations journalists cover or are likely to cover.
Reason? To avoid conflict of interest or bias, real or imagined, in reporting such gift-givers.
Rejecting such gifts also enhances credibility with readers and respect for journalists.
But, admittedly, it was difficult for the journalists to reject the gift. The ambassador was there in person to see the journalists demolish the bird.
So handing it over to the hungry street children all around them was not a comfortable option.
The willing and enthusiastic partakers can also be excused because it might have been awkward to turn down the friendly gift, given in the spirit of the Thanksgiving Day celebrations in America, a nation Kenyans admire.
So it’s understandable no media house, including NMG, rejected the turkey. Besides, because of customs, it would have been an ill-mannered gesture to refuse the gift.
After all, the gift was given openly to all the media houses – not to individual journalists invited to Mount Kenya Safari Club where dinner costs Sh3,500 per person and Moet & Chandon champagne costs Sh29,000 per bottle.
It’s also credible that some of those journalists scorn the whole idea that they can be influenced because of a bird.
They say they are above such influence and, if anything, they are likely to be extra critical when covering a person that has given them a gift.
Whatever they say, and regardless of whether you believe them, the fact remains that credible and influential news organisations the world over forbid their journalists from accepting gifts from news sources and potential newsmakers.
This is a matter of professional ethics and independence of journalists and giving readers the right image and appearance of professional journalists who have integrity.
There is also the law, or in-house requirements, to contend with. The Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya, which is the law of the land, states that journalists shall not accept gifts or favours “from those who might seek to influence coverage” or “engage in activities that may compromise their integrity or independence”.
The NMG policy on gifts is more robust and clear-cut. “Gifts, bribes, brown envelopes, favours, free travel, free meals or drinks, special treatment or privileges can compromise the integrity of journalists, editors and their employers,” it declares.
ETHICS IS CONSTANT
“Journalists, editors and their employers should conduct themselves in a manner that protects them from conflicts of interest, real or apparent. It is important not only to avoid conflicts of interest but also the appearances of such conflicts. In this connection, all situations capable of creating undue familiarity will be avoided or handled cautiously.”
The US ambassador came to Nation Centre at 9.15am last week on Thursday to carve the turkey.
That was after he delivered the same to the newsrooms of Radio Africa Group (owners of The Star and Kiss TV), KTN, and Citizen TV.
The turkey-eating journalists were seen to be most enthusiastic at Radio Africa Group where he got the entire staff of The Star to come to the feast.
A headline about the event read: ‘US Ambassador Surprises Kenyan Journalists With Turkey Gift.’
The Star’s digital editor Oliver Mathenge posted on his social media a video of the US ambassador sharing the turkey with the staff.
“Thank you balozi @USAmbKenya for the courtesy call and for bringing us the turkey,” he said.
But even as journalists chomped the turkey, ethics did not change: journalists should not accept gifts from people they cover or are likely to cover.
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