Nairobi Star Public Editor on Hacking, Checkbook Journalism

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The Nairobi Star's public editor talked about phone hacking and checkbook journalism in her latest column. (Credit: The Star, screenshot)

Nairobi Star public editor Karen Rothmyer used the UK phone hacking scandal as an opportunity to look at the Star’s standards, she explained in a recent column on hacking and paying for information.

Rothmyer, who was named in March the first public editor at the Nairobi Star, wrote that the scandal prompted her to think about “just what standards prevail in Kenyan newsrooms, and whether anything similar to hacking could-or does-happen here. In particular, as the Star’s public editor, I was curious about the paper’s formal, and informal, practices when it comes to getting the news.’

According to Rothmyer, the Nairobi Star has a set of “formal ‘rules” through a conduct code.  In that, the Star reminds that only in certain circumstances will the newspaper pay for information or violate someone’s privacy.

Rothmyer stated that she spoke “candidly” with ” more than a half-dozen Star reporters and editors,” who — while noting they wouldn’t — generally told her

“if hacking were technically feasible in Kenya, someone would probably do it.”

The Star’s editor, Catherine Gicheru, told her that she is against hacking even if the news is “significant” and in the public interest.  She stated:

“It’s illegal and unethical and l would not do it or allow someone else to do it for use by the newspaper.”

Overall, Rothmyer defended the Star’s ethics stating:” I believe that the Star adheres to a fairly high ethical standard.”

Rothmyer also highlighted the difference between hacking to get the information and using information obtained by hacking.  For example, she cited political editor Paul Ilado’s suggestion that ” if police feel that in order to solve a crime they have to hack someone’s phone, that is their decision, and if he were offered the results he might well accept.”

Regarding checkbook journalism, or paying for information, Rothmyer noted that “Some reporters, including at the Star, say they have paid sources, sometimes out of their own pockets, for information that will give them a good story or one that they feel they can’t get in any other way.”

As a matter of policy, the editor, Gicheru told her she’s only approved “small [payments] to court sources who can provide material that should be publicly available but often is not.”

Rothmyer emphasized that there’s no clear ban against paying for information and that she’s seen or heard money being given to reporters to cover certain things and of stories that included payment to sources.

Read Rothmyer’s column here.

iMediaEthics wrote in July about Rothmyer’s call for The Nairobi Star to handle its corrections more transparently.

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Nairobi Star Public Editor on Hacking, Checkbook Journalism

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