By Luke Mulunda
Homeboyz Radio has been fined Ksh1 million after being found guilty of breaking journalistic ethics, thanks to three presenters who made remarks that have been adjudged as insensitive to women.
The presenters – Shaffie Weru, Joseph Munoru (DJ Mfalme) and Neville Muysa – found themselves on the wrong side of a feminist wave that swept them off their payroll in less than 24 hours at Homeboyz Radio, which is controlled by Radio Africa Group.
The three were discussing on the Lift-Off show the issue of whether women are to blame for being attacked, and tilted the discussion towards affirming the hypothesis. They were focused on the court case in which a man is accused of pushing a woman he met on Facebook out of a 12th floor window on their first date.
The debate revolved around an ongoing court case in which Eunice Wangari has accused Moses Gatam Njoroge of pushing her out of the window of the 12th floor, allegedly after she rejected his sexual advances. He pleaded not guilty to grievous bodily harm.
“We were having a conversation around Eunice, the 20-year-old lady who last year, found a date on Facebook, went on a first date and after that… became immobile, she’s still limping because apparently this guy she found on Facebook invited her to a building, they were having a date on the 12th floor.”
“And then guess what happened? The guy tried to make moves… She said ‘Yo I’m not doing this, I’m not about this’ and then the guy pushed her over the 12th floor and now she’s a cripple.
“And I’m calling on all the ladies… you guys need to play hard to get.”
“Do you think Kenyan chiles [women] are too available, are they too loose, too willing, too desperate and that’s why they get themselves caught up in such situations?”
The analysis touched off outrage on social media as listeners and other commentators accused the hosts of victim-blaming, with a social media user by the name Bien-Aimé Baraza saying such talk was as “stupid as the act itself.”
Radio Africa management released a statement announcing the sacking of the trio and distanced itself from the offensive remarks. “The comments of said erstwhile employees were neither authorized, approved nor cleared with the company nor was the subject discussed and or authorized by the company’s senior leadership,” said Somoina Kimojino, the general manager at Homeboyz Radio. “We are deeply disappointed in their conduct.”
She said their conduct constituted gross misconduct and an egregious breach of the company’s editorial policies. “The company and its subsidiaries do not condone gender-based violence or any form of physical, verbal and emotional abuse nor does it subscribe to the view shared by the three employees,” she said.
Radio Africa saving face?
Would the company have picked out the unethical issues had there been no backlash? Truth be said, as long as the conversation gave the show good ratings, management would have certainly cheered it on.
The Communications Authority of Kenya, the media and telecoms regulator, fined Homeboyz Radio the Ksh1 million, suspended the breakfast show for six months and demanded an apology published in two dailies with nationwide circulation over the vile remarks since the “comments glorified violence against women.”
This is the first time public pressure has forced a media house to fire presenters over sexist remarks, which are plenty on most radio stations. If it really wanted to act, more than half of the FM stations would face the music.
That’s why Communications Authority’s swift but not so punitive action against Homeboyz Radio could be less of principle than yielding to public demand to save face. It nonetheless has helped CA to stamp its authority somehow in an oversexed radio industry. Most radio stations have made relationships pet subjects to draw in listeners and most of the conversations verge on the vulgar.
Dark side of radio
Meanwhile, the Homeboyz predicament shines the spotlight on the darkest corner of radio in Kenya: use of untrained presenters to drive their shows. Radio airwaves are stuffed with so-called celebrities – from musicians, comedians to actors – who masquerade behind mics as journalists by trading in their fan base yet have no idea of journalistic principles and ethics governing the practice of journalism.
Journalists in radio have been relegated to peripheral roles of gathering and editing news. Even the news presentation role is for the most part handled by these celebrities. That’s the weakest link in media brought about by stiff competition for listeners and entry of niche radio stations.
An interesting development in the Homeboyz saga came when East African Breweries (EABL), one of the top private advertisers, suspended its adverts from the radio station. EABL said the remarks appeared to support acts of gender violence on women.
Advertising meets gender
East African Breweries Limited (EABL) and the Guinness brand are significant advertisers on a variety of programmes on Radio Africa Group.
“EABL strives to promote inclusion and diversity and we discourage gender insensitive statements including negative portrayal of women in all our marketing campaigns,” EABL said in a statement. “The context in which content on the Wednesday programme was relayed goes against the core tenets of this agenda. Consequently, beginning Thursday, 26”’ March 2021, EABL paused all forms of advertising on the RAG prograrnmes related with these presenters.”
While Weru apologised on Instagram on Friday for “encouraging the already ongoing unacceptable culture of violence against women”, that did little to slow down the backlash both on him and Homeboyz Radio.
In its apology, EABL which was hoping to get some mileage from this situation, did what media regulators – Media Council of Kenya and Communications Authority – have failed to do over the years – requiring media (mainly radio stations) to hire qualified personnel. “As a pre-condition to revert to our advertising partnership,” EABL said, “we have asked RAG to conduct due diligence in the selection of presenters and embed a robust consequence management plan on those that do not abide to the code of conduct.”
Most radio stations have failed to follow their own advice to companies, government and other organisations to hire based on merit and instead focus on crowd-pullers at the expense of professionals and professionalism. In essence, media houses avoid the rigors of training and mentorship that goes into nurturing talent and lack the patience of letting new presenters build fan bases. Instead, they go for popular personalities and pay top dollar in exchange for their followers.
While this has worked, it is beginning to unravel in an increasingly conscious society whose voices are amplified by social media. Other media houses have lessons to learn from Homeboyz Radio, including training of presenters with no media background.
By Luke Mulunda, Managing Editor businesstoday.co.ke