“The Media Council of Kenya wishes to notify the public and all security officers that mobile/smart phones, while in use by duly accredited journalists and media practitioners, are recognised as professional media equipment.” Read the statement, in part, released by the Media Council of Kenya three days ago. This followed an incident where Nation Media Group’s journalist Mwangi Muiruri was assaulted by security officers attached to the second lady while out on an assignment in Murang’a County on the 24th of November.
Muiruri was assaulted because he pulled out his smartphone to record the relief food distribution exercise that Mrs Rigathi was presiding over in Gatanga. This happened despite the journalist wearing his job tag with a labeled lanyard, clearly identifying him as a journalist with the Nation. The scuffle escalated further with the officer going ahead to delete a video that had been recorded by another journalist capturing the whole encounter before handing back the phone.
This is just one among many unfortunate incidences reported. At a time when the world is embracing technology and integrating it into storytelling, it is sad that journalists get attacked for using the readily available devices to tell stories. The use of smartphones to document events and package stories does not make one less of a journalist. While there are many people trying to capture moments at an event, accredited journalists with their job tags shouldn’t be singled out. Security officers attached to senior government officials should not be allowed to operate with impunity. In any case, their bosses want the media to cover these activities and they therefore cannot dictate how journalists cover them, or what devices they use to document those stories for news.
We witness these incidents amidst deliberate efforts to integrate mobile journalism in the media industry. Journalists from the different media houses are up-skilling by taking mobile journalism training to produce stories in real time. In 2021, I was privileged to train journalists from different sections of various media houses for six months during the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communication and Facebook program. Their main test was to produce exclusively mobile journalism pieces that ran on all those platforms throughout the 6 months. At the end of the program, some of those journalists were retained to continue producing mobile journalism stories while other media houses began to equip their reporters with smartphones to use in their day to day storytelling.
During the general elections in August, journalists joined live broadcasts and told stories from the different polling stations and even at the Bomas of Kenya using their smartphones. Why weren’t they attacked then?
Now more than ever, journalists are signing up for mobile journalism training and that is a good sign. While journalists endeavour to learn the skill, the space for practicing those skills should be safe. It is commendable that the Media Council of Kenya has made a bold statement to the public and especially the security officers attached to public officers that journalists will be appearing at their press conferences with smartphones, and that it is okay for them todo so. It is my belief that this will go a long way in reducing those tensions and in mainstreaming mobile journalism.
I join the Media Council of Kenya in calling on universities and other journalism training institutions to include mobile journalism in their curricula. Journalists in this century need to be equipped with skills to thrive in a fast-changing environment. There are many other complex technologies that are now being integrated to storytelling like virtual reality, augmented reality, gamification among others and we surely should not have a problem integrating the use of smartphones.
It is time we embraced the use of smartphones in storytelling. Newsrooms should take this up as part of the daily workflow for their reporters. Mobile journalism isn’t in any way re-inventing the storytelling wheel. It is just a new workflow for journalists to tell stories from whichever location, in real time and more efficiently. Journalism is not a crime, and neither should mobile journalism be!