Ferdinand Omondi

Kenyan journalists continue to defend Royal Media Services’ reporter Victor Kinuthia, who fumbled with words when reporting on Sunday.

Ferdinand Omondi

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Victor trended for the better part of this week, with critics mocking and trolling him. But quite a number of media practitioners have come out to defend him.

BBC presenter’s Ferdinand Omondi has shared his experience going live and just like the rest, he said it ain’t easy.

Taking to social media he wrote,

By now you must have watched Inooro TV’s Victor Kinuthia imploding on live TV. And I have something to say.

There are lots of people having a field day: Armchair experts, trolls, career kill-joys and ‘çritics’ tearing him apart and also ripping into Citizen TV with ‘is that the best you got ‘, etc etc.

Fast forward, Victor had an epic stage fright. Let’s just get that out of the way. Yes, he froze. He fumbled. It probably didn’t help that he appeared to think in Kikuyu and then try to speak in English (never, ever, works).

But then. I am told he mainly reports for Inooro TV, and apparently he is very fluent on home soil. Obviously this was an away match.

However going live – for the first time, so it would seem- for Citizen TV, Kenya’s number one station by viewership, is no mean feat. That’s like an average footballer suddenly running for a heavy political seat in an unfamiliar constituency. You can expect a false start.

I can’t speak for Victor. But I have been in front of the camera and also in-front of a live audience as an actor and presenter. Stage fright is real, and absolutely numbing. You may have all the words upto 3 seconds before cue, and suddenly all that you had rehearsed evaporates. All you see is a white light, your throat dries up and the only thing that comes to mind is absolutely irrelevant content. While you should be thinking about Ndindi Nyoro’s arrest, your impish brains starts playing weird stuff like mbinginji imekulwa na ndoggy, and your mouth is tempting you to sing along!

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He continued,

So what do you do? Fiddle with your earpiece, shift restlessly, say stuff you absolutely know doesn’t make sense; but you think the senseless sentences are better than staying mum with some 5 million people staring at you behind the camera. Which is why you will find every excuse to pause and think of what to say next, like stare at every distraction, including a passing ambulance.

Victor had a bad day in office, but we have no right to mock him like that. He will learn from this, and in subsequent live hits, I am sure he will come good. I have read that he has received lots encouraging calls from colleagues and team leaders. That is what he needs.

Ad-libbing (speaking without previous preparation) is an art that no media school will teach you. You learn this with constant practice and experience. In Victor’s case, he has (unfortunately) had to practice on air.

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He added,

That said, I wonder whether it was absolutely necessary. Having worked for all 3 major Kenyan media stations, I have to say news producers do not protect their talent very much. Something happens, you haven’t even gathered your thoughts as a reporter, and bam! You are ORDERED to go on air, sometimes for minutes on end. Instance: There’s a fire which started ten minutes ago, the reporter has just arrived, but the news anchor is asking questions like what was the cause of fire? How many are dead? And what are the police saying? Never mind that all a reporter can see at the time is- you guessed it- fire, smoke, and people running for their lives! (or towards the fire like Kenyans are wont to do). The policeman authorized to make a statement is not even on the scene. Not even the tenants know what caused the fire. Absolutely no one nearby knows if anyone is trapped or dead. And the reporter has no producer to help him collect this information. But go live anyway, so the audience can see we are everywhere and on time.

We have to review this obsession with going live at any cost and without preparation. Sometimes it may be necessary, but please remember to protect your reporters, or at the very least, limit your questions and time on-air until they have collected something worth putting on the air. It also doesn’t hurt to give them a few minutes to rehearse those lines (debatable, but consider it). Hii maneno ya ‘keep talking, keep talking’ in someone’s earpiece when they have run out of words to say will not help anyone at all.

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Advising Victor,  he wrote,

Victor, if you read this. Congratulations. You stepped up, and did what you could in the circumstances. You will become better. Ignore the mockery (or walk it off). Focus on encouragement. You are learning. Keep your head up and you will excel. Ferdinand out.

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‘I almost gave up,’ reporter Victor Kinuthia speaks out after being trolled