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I Free Speech or Cheap Talk?

Assessing the Application of Ethical Standards
and Professionalism in Talk Radio in Kenya
Published by:

Media Council of Kenya
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Assessing the Application of Ethical Standards
and Professionalism in Talk Radio in Kenya
Media Council of Kenya
First published May 2014
Media Council of Kenya
All rights reserved. Apart from fair dealing for the purposes of research,
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ISBN 978-9966-073-01-3
Acknowledgement 1
Foreword 2
Executive Summary 3
Key Findings 4
1. Introduction 8
Objectives of this study 8
Research questions 8
Methodology 9
2. Literature Review 14
Power of radio in impact and infuence 14
Nature of radio talk shows 14
Characteristics of callers in talk radio 16
Sex talk in Radio talk shows programmes 17
Ethical perspective of radio talk shows 17
3. Audience Perception and Opinion
on Talk Shows in Kenya 25
Study statistics 25
Frequency of listenership 25
Obscenity 27
The use of ethnic and race stereotypes 27
4. Analysis of Various Talk Shows 33
Radio Citizen 33
Classic 105 35
KBC Idhaa ya Taifa 37
Bibilia Husema 38
Ghetto Radio 39
5. Practices, Solutions and Tips 43
The building blocks of common ground talk 45
Conclusions and Recommendations 46
References 48
The Media Council of Kenya (MCK ) wishes to sincerely thank all those who partici-
pated in the publication of this report. We are particularly grateful to all those who
participated in data collection, analysis, report writing, preview and editing.
We are also indebted to the MCK Media Analysis team of Immaculate Mwende,
Abraham Kisang, Allennita Gakii and Njeri Munyiri. Their continued support and
cooperation has been invaluable. We thank the Research and Media Monitoring
Offcer Amos Kibet for the compilation of data and for undertaking desk and survey
research for this study.
We owe special thanks to the MCK Chief Executive Offcer, Haron Mwangi,
Programmes Manager Victor Bwire and the Councils Communications and Infor-
mation Offcer Jerry Abuga for their input and support. We also recognise the as-
sistance of IT Offcer Simon Njuguna who expertly handled online questionnaires
during the period of this research. We thank Kevin Mabonga for the preliminary
editing of this report.
Lastly, we sincerely thank the Kenya Media Programme and GIZ for their continued
support, and for making it possible for this project to take off.
The Media Council of Kenya is an independent national institution established by
the Media Council Act 2013 for purposes of setting of media standards and ensur-
ing compliance with those standards as set out in Article 34(5) of the Constitution.
As per the mandatory requirement by the Act, the Council monitors newspapers,
television stations and radio stations on their adherence to the Code of Conduct for
the Practice of Journalism in Kenya.
The Media Council of Kenya commissioned this study following numerous com-
plaints from stakeholders on adherence to professional ethics of radio talk shows in
Kenya. Some of the complaints have bordered on the quality of moderation, caller
comments, inappropriate topical discussions, sensationalised and often immoral
contributions as well as the blatant disregard of the professional standards and the
code of conduct.
The developments in technology and subsequent regulations have infuenced and
changed the shape and content of talk show programmes in Kenya and around
the globe. Recent technological developments, particularly mobile telephony, have
contributed to and facilitated increased listenership and participation in talk shows.
The call-in section of radio talk shows has created a complex aspect of managing the
feedback mechanism of the audience within the ethical and professional standards.
Talk shows are ideally supposed to generate public debate about various issues and
enhance public participation and inclusion in content development. Such content is
supposed to facilitate public discourses on public interest issues that will enhance
societal solutions for development.
The proliferation of radio stations in Kenya coupled with the fght for wider audience
base and attendant revenue-share has promoted the growth of talk shows. This
development has engendered ethical challenges, concerns and debate particularly
on whether and how it can be regulated. This study has therefore identifed some of
the challenges that radio talk show presenters face and possible remedies.
The report will be useful in guiding radio talk show hosts in paying attention to spe-
cifc ethical articles in the Code of Conduct that guide explicit topical discussions in
their programmes.
Chief Executive Offcer & Secretary to the Council
4 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Executive Summary
The Media Council of Kenya has in the recent past received numerous complaints
regarding the ethics and professionalism of radio talk shows in Kenya. Of particular
concern has been the quality of moderation, caller comments, inappropriate topical
discussions, sensationalized and often immoral contributions as well as the blatant
disregard for the appropriate listenership brackets especially during the morning
call-in programmes.
The Media Council of Kenya has on several occasions intervened and issued ethical
advisories based on the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism.
Accordingly, this study examines various radio stations with particular focus on the
ethicality and professionalism of their programmes.
The study fnds that some discussions especially those that can be considered ob-
scene take place because of lack of quality control and respect for moral and cultural
sensitivities. The research further shows that the programmes are loaded with race,
religion, and ethnic stereotypes, and are disrespectful of sexual orientation, disabil-
ity, physical appearance or social status. Commercial radio stations tended to privi-
lege controversial, emotive and interesting topics of discussions like relationships,
lifestyles and entertainment.
The research further found that some callers and participants were paid to express
sensationalist sentiments about controversial issues to generate debate and inter-
est. Nonetheless, most hosts were able to effectively control discussions through
moderation of the talks.
The time allocated for the talk shows was limited and allowed an average of 10 in-
terventions during the entire shows. No hate speech was recorded during the period
of monitoring.
5 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Key Findings
54% of the respondents indicate that the problem of obscenity in radio talk
shows exists because of uncontrolled interventions from callers. Respondents
indicated that the hosts were not in control of the discussions and thus let them
spiral out of control.
56% of the respondents believe many callers use fctitious names as a veil for
making invective and reckless contributions.
58% of those surveyed say the discussions were not constructive, developmental
and serious enough to inform policy issues in the society.
The survey indicates that many people (55% of the respondents) felt that the
talk shows were loaded with race, religion, and ethnic stereotypes, and are
disrespectful of sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
40% of those surveyed were not aware that they could lodge complaints with
the Media Council of Kenya regarding unprofessional or unethical behaviour
during call-in shows.
Only 2% of the respondents say they had tried to lodge complaints regarding
violation of acceptable ethical standards.
The survey indicates that up to 78% of the respondents believed that some of
the callers were paid to express sensationalist sentiments to generate debate
and interest.
Most commercial stations privileged controversial, emotive and interesting
issues relating to relationships, lifestyles and entertainment.
The survey indicates that 62% of the respondents had heard derogatory remarks
based on ethnicity, race, creed and sex during morning radio talk-shows.
48% of the respondents believe some comments on the talk shows were
unverifed and false.
61% of the respondents felt the discussions shape and infuence listeners
general perceptions and thinking on different aspects of life in society.
46% of the respondents indicate that inappropriate remarks were made on
social media sites, particularly Facebook pages and Twitter handles, of the
morning radio talk shows.
The survey shows that 32% of the respondents liked the music that was played
in their favourite talk shows.
31% indicate that they liked the humour in the shows.
24% say they appreciated the discussion.
60% of the respondents believe the programmes promote hate speech although
no evidence of hate speech was found during the duration of the research.
Religious stations hardly violated ethical standards.
The time allocated for radio talk shows was limited and on average only 10 calls
were received during the programme.
6 Free Speech or Cheap Talk? 6 Cheap Talk or Free Speech?
7 Free Speech or Cheap Talk? 7 Cheap Talk or Free Speech?
8 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Radio Talk shows are a
tool with great power
to infuence confict in a
positive or negative manner;
they have to be used with
care, if they are not to
exacerbate confict. Talk
shows can bring people
together across dividing
lines and open up debate on
diffcult issues
Howard and Rolt
Radio is considered powerful because
of its wide reach, and because its rela-
tively affordable compared to other me-
dia such as television. The growth and
popularity of radio is also attributed to
its interactive nature with modern tech-
nologies allowing for audience partici-
pation in various programmes. In other
words, radio programmes have become
more conversational, engaging and in-
Radio stations now use Premium Rate
Telephony Services (PRS) to interact
with their listeners and allow participa-
tion via phone or short messages (SMS).
The development of new forms of com-
petition and premium rate phone-ins
has changed the nature of the relation-
ships with listeners. The audiences be-
come paying customers while the sta-
tion has the potential to develop a small
but consistent revenue stream and in-
crease listener loyalty. Such revolutions
have introduced new challenges par-
ticularly with regards to the adherence
and respect for acceptable ethical and
professional standards.
Morning talk shows are some of the
most popular radio programmes in Ke-
nya according to 2013 Study from Kenya
Audience Research Foundation. Some
of the topics of discussions in those
radio stations arouse immense interest
among their audiences. However, the
Media Council of Kenya has received
numerous complaints with regards to
some of the radio stations talk-show
programmes. The Complaints Commis-
sion of the Media Council of Kenya reg-
ularly receive complaints from individu-
als and organizations concerned about
the falling quality and ethical standards
of such programming. Most complaints
touch on the appropriateness of the
topics of discussions, invective, unveri-
fed and reckless commentaries from
callers and guests, the inability of hosts
to moderate and control discussions
and the violations to ethical standards
as stipulated by Code of Conduct.
Although some have not been formally
presented, listeners sometimes com-
plain that their calls have been limited
or barred by the station, that some pro-
gramme hosts are biased, insuffcient-
ly informed and/or are discourteous.
Many consumers also complain that
the nature of the material being broad-
cast, like radio stunts or shock jock pro-
grammes, is obscene, indecent, profane
or offensive.
Objectives of this study
1. To identify the ethical and pro-
fessional challenges radio talk
shows in Kenya face with special
focus on host moderation, caller
comment and issues of discus-
2. To determine the role of talk
shows in promoting issues of
Chapter One
9 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
public interest, development and
social and political engagements
in Kenya.
3. To identify and examine promi-
nent and thematic priorities of-
fered by the radio talk shows
4. To determine whether morning
talk shows promote hate speech
and bigotry.
Research questions
i. Do radio talk shows adhere to
acceptable ethical and profes-
sional principles?
ii. What are the general audience
perceptions of various radio
talk shows with regards to is-
sues of public interest, devel-
opment and social and political
engagements in Kenya?
iii. What are the topical issues and
thematic priorities on radio talk
shows in Kenya?
iv. Do the talk shows promote hate
speech and bigotry in Kenya?
This study used two methods, namely
content analysis and an online survey.
The research analyzed content from var-
ious radio stations that can be broadly
categorised as:
Public service radio.
Community radio.
Commercial radio (in English
and Kiswahili).
Religious radio.
Continuous monitoring was done for
two weeks and focused on morning talk
shows. The monitoring was guided by a
code sheet informed by the provisions
of the Code of Conduct for the Practice
of Journalism as stipulated in the Media
Council Act 2013.
An online survey questionnaire was also
used in this study. Purposive sampling
was used in the study with respondents
being listeners who had tuned-in in the
last one month. A questionnaire with
four sections was used. The question-
naire was divided into: a section on the
perception of respondents on the level
of adherence to ethical and profession-
alism standards during talk shows;
section on respondents perception of
the quality of topics and host modera-
tion skills; a section on level of aware-
ness on retributive measures on errant
media houses and the appropriate ac-
tion audience can initiate; and a section
on respondent ratings on various as-
pects related to the talk shows.
Characteristics of radio talk
show programmes
Most radio talk show pro-
grammes in Kenya are broad-
cast live. There are hardly any
pre-recorded talk show pro-
Talk show programmes target
audience participation. The
main mode of participation is
mobile telephony via voice calls
and text messages.
The talk shows are often mod-
erated by a media personal-
ity who guides, facilitates and
stimulates the discussions.
Many talk shows have em-
ployed the services of a clown
10 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
character. These are mostly co-
medians or popular actors who
spice the programmes with
comic relief.
Talk show programmes some-
times use guests knowledge-
able about the topics on offer.
This means the programmes
sometimes involve exchanges
between the audience and the
Most programmes focus on
particular topical issues of so-
cial, political or personal nature.
Sometimes the programmes
use interviews, narratives, de-
bates, confessions and testi-
monies. Confrontational and
conficting opinions are usually
guaranteed given the topics
and the fact that audience par-
ticipation is encouraged.
Normally, callers contributions
are screened by a shows pro-
ducers in order to maximise au-
dience interest and, in the case
of commercial talk radio, attract
Talk shows are organised into
segments, each separated
by a break to allow for adver-
tsements. In public or non-
commercial radio, music is
sometimes played instead of
commercials. Other breakers in-
clude money games and news.
Evolving roles of radio
talk shows in Kenya
Talk show programmes have come a
long way in Kenyas radio history. They
are now more audience oriented, more
participatory and more entertaining
compared to what was on offer about
two decades ago. Our study shows that
talk shows play the following roles:
I. Talk show programmes as a
form of citizen journalism
Citizen journalism refers to con-
tent produced by ordinary peo-
ple or listeners. The focus is on
the process or activity involved
rather than the form of media
in which it is published or ap-
pears. Talk shows create oppor-
tunities for citizen journalism. It
is however important to make
the distinction between callers
providing news and informa-
tion and their use of the space
to express their opinions about
particular issues.
II. Talk shows as avenues for
social interaction
Talk shows play an important
role by providing the space for
the expression of opinions. An
important aspect for opinion
sharing among the participants
is the immediacy of talk shows.
Some of the road shows organ-
ised by various media houses
have created an avenue for
the audience to meet their talk
show hosts. This has served to
complete the social interaction
III. Talk show programmes as
avenues for agenda-setting
Audience members recognise
the agenda-setting role of talk
shows. With a relatively high
audience, radio has greater
impact in terms of setting the
nations agenda. Discussions
on morning talk shows some-
times reverberate throughout
11 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
the day as some radio stations
repeat bits of morning discus-
sions throughout the day.
IV. Talk show programmes as
sources of news stories
Sometimes callers become key
sources of information about
events and happenings around
the country. Some callers spe-
cifcally do so with the aim of
giving information on such
things as accidents, disasters
and even events which may in-
terest journalists and the public.
V. Talk show programmes as
avenues for democratic
The participation of political
and other actors in the shows
give audience an opportunity
to interact with their leaders.
The audience can engage such
leaders on issues that affect
society. These conversations
undoubtedly enhance demo-
cratic engagements. The pro-
grammes can also enhance the
medias watchdog role.
VI. Talk show programmes as
lobbying tools
While talk shows may have
been used as a mechanism to
actively access politicians and
to engage on political issues,
others fnd it as a valuable tool
for lobbying on behalf of com-
munity organisations. Through
talk shows, the electorate have
been mobilised to participate in
political activities including vot-
ing, people have been urged to
take part in humanitarian activi-
ties and even well-wishers have
been urged to support their fel-
low Kenyans during disasters.
VII. Talk show programmes as
problem solvers
Some talk shows contribute
to the resolution of everyday
problems. Sometimes experts
on the shows handle peoples
problems. Accordingly, audi-
ences gain from the shows, and
contribute to solutions to other
peoples problems.
VIII. Talk show programmes as
entertainment platforms
Talk shows are frst and fore-
most entertainment pro-
grammes although they can
also be both informative and
educative. However, in most
cases the shows are often for
entertainment purposes.
Common topical discussions on radio
talk shows in Kenya
Topical issues in talk shows are depen-
dent on various factors. Some of these
include the commercial orientation of
the media house, competition from
other radio stations, target audiences,
the personality of programme hosts
and audience demands.
One way of determining the target au-
dience of a talk show is to listen to the
music they play, the kind of competitive
win-shows within the programmes, the
words and phrases used, the commer-
cials broadcast, among others.
Some of the issues common on talk
shows include:
12 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Relationships and family issues
Current affairs
Human interest issues
Religious issues
Lifestyle and entertainment
Development issues like fshing
and farming
Economic and business issues
including cost of fuel
Radio talk shows: the legacy of post-
election violence in 2007/2008
The impact and infuence of radio talk
shows cannot be better explained with-
out a look at the post-election violence
of 2007/2008. Media observers and
monitors have singled out certain local-
language radio stations for contributing
to ethnic animosity through broadcasts
that seemingly promoted hate speech.
Some observers note that some local-
language radio stations were not only
partisan but also supported leading
political parties, spread fear and pro-
paganda through their programming,
slandered individuals and communities
and propagated ethnocentrism.
The radio stations are said to have con-
tributed to a climate of hate, and fear by
propagating negative ethnicity and vio-
lence. One of the International Criminal
Court (ICC) indictees, Joshua arap Sang
is accused of fanning ethnic violence
through his morning talk show on Kass
FM. Other local-language radio stations
like Kameme, Inooro and Coro have also
been accused of contributing to the
post -elections violence.
The allegations before the ICC dem-
onstrate that radio may be culpable
of promoting violence through hate
speech and bigoted programming. The
Waki and Krigler commissions may have
reinforced the foregoing conclusions
that vernacular radio stations served
as platforms for the mobilisation and
coordination of violent activities by the
various ethnic groups. This may have
also been because of the failure or in-
ability of journalists and presenters and
the state to control or reign in deleteri-
ous live talk shows.
This is not peculiar to Kenya though as
countries like Rwanda and Burundi suf-
fered terrible consequences of hate ra-
dio. Regardless, it is important to note
that radio, like other media, can be both
useful and harmful depending on use.
Radio can contribute to growth and
development of the community and
country by providing information, edu-
cation and entertainment. It can also
undermine social cohesion and encour-
age violence by propagating hate and
13 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
14 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Literature review
Power of radio in
impact and infuence
Radio is one of the most effective me-
dia of communication especially in de-
veloping countries mainly because of
its wide reach, its relative affordability
and because information can be broad-
cast quickly in many languages that
the audiences can understand (Wilson
III, 2004; Mwakawago, 1986). In Kenya,
there are many English, Swahili and lo-
cal language stations. This means that
almost all Kenyans can beneft from
existing stations due to the diversity of
languages offered.
The fact that messages can reach large
audiences within a short time contrib-
utes to the development of countries
given the fact that information and edu-
cation that communities need is offered
affordably especially in poor countries
where other media are either unafford-
able or unavailable (Mwakawago 1986).
But it is the dual purpose of education
and information that is critical to devel-
opment. It is also what makes it attrac-
tive or popular in many communities.
Listeners can always tune in to hear the
latest music, news, weather, and traffc
report. Other mass media, television,
newspaper, and magazines, are not as
up-to-the minute as radio.
In addition, through specialised pro-
gramming, radio has specifc appeals
to different groups of people. Radio has
developed a diverse range of formats to
satisfy almost every ones preferences.
With so many different radio formats, lis-
teners have a range of menu to choose
from to suit individual interests. Listeners
may have similar reasons for listening to
different radio formats, but demograph-
ic, social, and psychological dimensions
may infuence an individuals decision to
listen to a specifc radio format.
Whats more, radio has the ability to
affect community behavior. This is es-
pecially true when talking about the
political behavior. Radio has the ability
to become an open mike forum where
individuals within a society can express
opinions, legitimize actions, and mobi-
lize fellow listeners. Lastly, radio is a ver-
satile medium (Crittenden, 1971).
According to latest Communications
Authority of Kenya, formerly the
Communications Commission of Kenya,
there are more than 113 licensed radio
stations in Kenya. The actual number is
probably much higher. Radio stations
in Kenya are as diverse as the cultural
heritage of its people. Radio stations
operating in Kenya can be categorised
into commercial, public, religious, com-
munity, and institutional stations.
Nature of radio talk shows
Talk shows are unique. They are different
from conventional journalism that seeks
and is interested in factual and balanced
information. A talk show can consist of
invited guests discussing particular is-
sues or a presenter encouraging random
callers to express their views through
call-in sessions. Often talk shows are a
mixture of both formats.
Radio talk shows are mostly interested
in debates using conversational meth-
ods. Radio stations often encourage
their listeners to participate in discus-
sions. Through phone-ins, debates and
competitions, listeners not only engage
with issues but participate in conversa-
tions with others or experts in different
areas creating a sense of community.
Programmes of this nature take on a
town-meeting format where it is the
Chapter Two
15 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
responsibility of on-air personalities to
facilitate and maintain lively conversa-
tions with listeners on relevant issues of
the day (Barone and Schrof, 1990; Rubin
and Rubin, 1993). Listeners are encour-
aged by hosts to call in with opinions
and questions. Often, outside guests
are invited on these programmes to
offer expert knowledge and ideas and
enrich the exchanges. Although numer-
ous issue-oriented programmes discuss
topics ranging from community prob-
lems to issues of national concerns,
many focus on current affairs.
Numerous developments in technology,
and subsequent regulations, have infu-
enced and changed the shape and con-
tent of talk show programmes. Recent
technological developments, particular-
ly mobile telephony, have contributed
and facilitated increased listenership
and participation in in talk shows. Fur-
ther, mobile handsets with radio facili-
ties means more people are now tuning
in to such programmes. This widens
listenership and has the potential to
enhance participation. Email and SMS
technology makes talkback available to
people who would not otherwise have
contributed to such programmes (Gill-
man, 2007)
Strengths and weakness of call-in radio talk shows
Strength Weakness
Anonymity for callers. This is especially
important for vulnerable callers or whose
may want to keep their identity secret for
various reason
High risk of invective, slanderous, false,
bigoted expressions, hate speech, misin-
Democratises debate. Engages the gener-
al public without or with little restriction
Callers unfocussed, irrelevant, mischievous,
unaccountable pronouncements
Provides a wide diversity of public views,
Callers can provoke and infame tensions
with outrageous remarks
Element of surprise, spontaneity Risk of technical disruptions such as bad
phone lines, background noise
Interactive: Callers, presenter and guests
can exchange views
Diffcult to manage time, control calls
Provides instant reaction, feedback Risk of becoming trial by radio for guests
Humanises issues. Ordinary people speak Reduced time for in-depth exploration of
Gauges public opinion Risk of unrepresentative food of calls or-
ganised by one viewpoint, and production
of unreliable opinion
Provides public access to experts, au-
thorities, leaders
Unrepresentative of public lacking phones
and airtime to make calls and participate
in discussions
Allows venting or cooling of public emo-
Diffcult to summarise views
Public pleas can infuence antagonists
Callers take over the programme, attacking
each other
Source: Howard, Ross and Rolt, Francis. 2005 Radio Talk shows for Peace building:
A Guide. 2nd ed. Brussels: Search for Common Ground. p.24
16 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Why do people listen but not
contribute to radio talk shows?
The purpose of talk shows is mainly to
generate public debate about various is-
sues and enhance public participation
and inclusion in content development.
Although such shows are characterized
by high listenership, there is often a small
number of people motivated to call in and
share their feelings about issues being
There are suggestions that the need for
communication and companionship may
be a strong reason for listening to talk
shows talk radio. Avery, Ellis, and Glover
(1978) say that individuals see talk radio
as a source of information and as a chan-
nel to express themselves. Their research
found that many people considered talk
shows a window on the world. Hosts
and callers lend support to one another
and listening to these programmes was an
important part of an individuals daily rou-
tine. Avery, Ellis, and Glover (1978) found
that hosts satisfed an interpersonal func-
tion for listeners.
The foregoing discussions are support-
ed by Armstrong and Rubin (1989) who
found that in the United States found that
people listened to talk radio for various.
While some wanted information, others
used it to pass time and habit, for re-
laxation, exciting entertainment, conve-
nience, voyeurism, companionship and
Most development theorists however
consider the information provision one
of the most important reasons for listen-
ing to radio. Cerulo, Ruane, and Chayko
(1992) argue that most radio consumers
want to keep up on issues and current
events and affairs. In their research, one in
fve respondents indicated they wanted to
hear other viewpoints and said that they
listened to learn how different people feel
about issues of the day. Many respon-
dents reported that talk radio served as a
platform for discussions of public opinion.
Respondents also listened to talk radio
because they believed it was entertaining.
Herbst (1995) has identifed four main
reasons for listening to talk shows. In
his study, several listeners said that they
called in to transmit their own opinions
and to disseminate knowledge. Other call-
ers were motivated by the need to engage
in some sort of dialogue. Some individuals
called in because they sought advice, in-
formation, or clarifcation on some issue.
A small percentage of people felt a need
to police the public sphere and so called
in to correct a bias of a host or caller and
to broaden discussion topics.
The Times Mirror study (1993) which has
examined peoples use of political talk
radio, found that audience members lis-
tened for several reasons. First, people
were motivated to keep up on issues and
stay current with public affairs. Second,
people listened because of the entertain-
ment value in the programmes. Lastly,
individuals admired particular hosts and
thus tuned in to hear what hosts say.
According to Appleton (1999), the in-
creasing popularity of talk radio has been
linked to social factors such as growing
numbers of unemployed and part-time
and shift workers, and the ageing popula-
tion, who are seen as infuencing the main
agendas of talk radio programmes.
Characteristics of
callers in talk radio
Who are the major callers to radio talk
shows? What is their demographic, so-
cial, and psychological orientation? An-
swers to these questions would explain
the link between the nature of callers
and the quality of discussions and con-
sequently the general adherence to the
Code of Conduct.
17 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Turow (1974) found that individuals who
were older, less mobile, isolated and of
a lower socio-economic status were
more likely to phone in to talk shows.
He also found that the time of day infu-
enced those who called. He added that
the continuous talk show radio format
offers audience members a chance for
social interaction.
Armstrong and Rubin (1989) however
found that radio talk shows callers did
not use the medium for reasons of com-
panionship any more than non-callers
although callers were more likely to be
less socially interactive and less mobile
than non-callers. Their study also shows
that the most signifcant reason that in-
dividuals give for listening to talk radio is
that it serves as an instrumental media
experience, with issues, arguments, in-
formation, and humor encouraging lis-
teners to attend and become involved.
Armstrong suggests that the people
who called into talk shows were those
seeking companionship and those who
have the time and resource to engage
in discussions that would give them cer-
tain media experiences.
Those seeking cheap popularity may
also regularly participate in radio talk
shows. With time they become key to
the programmes. Their opinions are
then regularly sought and their views
often throw controversial angles into
the discussions to generate debate and
interest. Such callers create a perceived
affliation to the hosts and the radio sta-
tions in general.
Sex talk in Radio talk
shows programmes
Sex sells. The prioritisation of sex in ra-
dio talk shows clearly attest to this fact.
Sex talk programmes have been known
to push audience rating and participa-
tion through feedback. The anonymity
of callers encourages sex talk in pro-
grammes as it shields the true identity
of contributors.
In the 1970s, the United States labeled
such sex-flled shows topless pro-
grammes. They were consequently tar-
geted by the Federal Communication
Commission for violating obscenity
statutes. Since then, however, peoples
views have changed. Such develop-
ments have made sex talk increasingly
Mendehlson (1964) states that indi-
vidual radio stations serve one of four
basic functions: utilitarian information
and news, active mood accompaniment,
release from psychological tension and
pressure, and friendly companionship.
Sex talk not only provides that utilitar-
ian information satisfaction but also
provides a release from psychological
tension and pressure when individuals
share private information with absolute
In Kenya, some of the radio talk show
programmes have specifc advisors
christened Dr. Love who sometimes
give opinionated and hurtful comments
to individuals who call in. However, the
programmes have generated debate,
and raised a number of moral questions
among them: Should such sexual topics
be discussed during the morning hours
when young listeners can tune in?
Ethical perspective
of radio talk shows
The proliferation of radio stations in Ke-
nya coupled with the fght for a wider
audience base and attendant revenue-
share has promoted the growth of talk
shows. This development has engen-
dered ethical challenges, concerns and
debate particularly on whether and how
it can be regulated. An area of particu-
18 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
lar concern has been the conduct of talk
show hosts given their privileged po-
sition and capacity to infuence public
opinion and loyalty.
According to the Code of Practice and
Guidelines for Commercial Radio in
Australia, talk shows content must not
offend generally accepted standards of
decency (for example, through the use
of invective language).
Howard and Rolt (2005) argue that talk
shows are a form of journalism and that
presenters should adhere to the profes-
sional standards of accuracy and impar-
tiality and must strive to avoid libel and
slander. They argue that such radio pro-
grammes risk giving listeners empty en-
tertainment and little informational or
educational value if they do not exercise
professional responsibility. The content
should ideally serve and advance public
The use of coded language in talk
shows: the case of hate speech
Most African languages are rich in prov-
erbs, similes and metaphors. Many call-
ers use them during talk shows. The
motives for using the proverbs, simi-
les and metaphors varies and the talk
show hosts should be on the lookout
particularly because some people use
them as veils to engage in hate speech
and bigotry. It is no secret that some
people often use metaphors and prov-
erbs to avoid directly stating what they
really mean. It is not, however, lost to
discerning listeners and audiences that
the true meaning of such words is hate
speech. They merely use such language
to conceal hate speech and attempt to
escape responsibility for any harm that
may arise out of their pronouncements.
It is no secret that the use of hate-load-
ed code words during conversations is
common in Africa. For example, during
the post elections violence of 2007/2008
some of the communities were consid-
ered magugu meaning weeds. Similar-
ly, in Zimbabwe, some people speak of
harvesting the weeds meaning to root
out any individuals who do not belong
to the ruling party. In Rwanda, just prior
to the genocide, the use of kill the cock-
roaches (meaning eliminate Tutsis) was
very common. Such statements are not
just cultural expressions but are used as
coded words to encourage violence.
Howard and Rolt (2005) posit that jour-
nalist and talk show presenters should
challenge the use of coded and hate-
ful metaphors and similes in their talk
shows. They should recognize hidden
hate speech and should immediately
ask the speakers to explain what they
mean in straightforward terms. Jour-
nalist should use phrases like: Tell us
what you mean by that or kindly state
that in simple terms or what are you
referring to? in challenging the speak-
ers to say they really mean. Journalist
should willingly feign ignorance if and
when necessary and expose any form of
hate speech by demanding clarity of the
contribution made by some callers. This
will force speakers to bear responsibility
for their statements and contributions.
Infuence of talk show hosts on
callers: documented evidence
The infuence of talk shows hosts on
their audience is tremendous. Accord-
ing to Cordeiro (2012) radio infuence
on socio-political power structures and
the manufacture of consent, along with
other media effects in society, have led
to the adoption of professional struc-
tures and strategic management. Such
strategies have included the hiring of
talented and celebrity individuals as
radio talk show hosts. Such celebrities
command the admiration and adora-
19 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
tion of their audience, a factor that
comes with great amount of power and
Kendrick (2006) has examined the infu-
ence of radio hosts. She is particularly
interested to see how much infuence
they have during violent confrontations.
In his study, Kendrick (2006) sought to
understand the role of popular broad-
caster Alan Jones and his callers in in-
faming the 2005 Cronulla, Australia,
riots between young Lebanese-Muslim
and Anglo-Australian men. She ana-
lyzed his and his callers opinions and,
more broadly, talkback radios claim to
power and authority. Kendrick argues
that it was the intimate relationship
between Jones and his listeners/callers
that made his programme a pivotal
player in the unfolding of the riots.
It is therefore evident that talk show
hosts wield immense power which, if
not channeled appropriately, may lead
to violent conficts.
Professional characteristics
of radio talk show host
A professional talk show host should
ideally understand the ethical principles
that guide such programmes. Some of
the general professional characteristics
require that a host should be able to:
Direct discussion towards issues of
public interest and avoid merely
Presenters at Radio Maisha studios.
20 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
sensational topical issues
Adequately research and under-
stand topical issues of discussion
Seek clarifcation, re-ask essential
Focus a debate, highlight a central
Calm ferce emotions, including his/
her own, especially through humour
Recognise and emphasise facts
Be broad-minded, unbiased, and
Identify, synthesise and articulate
public opinion
Be articulate, confdent, and a team
Enliven a serious debate, always re-
membering: the public is listening
Find out and be aware of what or-
dinary people and regular listeners
are talking about
Listen patiently to fnd key informa-
tion in complicated answers and facts
Cash for comment: the case of
manipulative swindle
The Commercial Radio Inquiry was es-
tablished and undertaken by the Aus-
tralian Broadcasting Authority in 1999
to investigate claims that some of the
countrys most popular and highest paid
talk show hosts had received payment
from companies and lobby groups in re-
turn for positive comment. The positive
comments were engineered through
cash for comments callers. The inquiry
found out that the cash for comments
individual were mainly allowed to make
piercing and controversial statements
aimed at driving positive discussions
towards some companies.
Christened cash for comment inquiry,
Turner suggests that this can be seen as
a consequence of the deregulation of the
radio broadcasting industry formalized
in Australia by the Broadcasting Servic-
es Act (1992). He pointed out that such
cash for comment scandals highlight the
failure of self-regulation aimed at pro-
tecting public interest (Turner, 2000).
One of the outcomes of the inquiry was
that licensees be required to ensure the
on-air disclosure of commercial agree-
ments between sponsors and present-
ers. But the Australian Broadcasting
Authority was powerless to censure
talkback hosts. Accordingly, those who
breached the Commercial Radio Code
of Practice continue to operate. More-
over, any concern that listeners had
about the controversy was not refected
in ratings. In other words, listeners re-
mained loyal to the hosts.
Moderation and censorship
of talk shows
The ability to censor callers, such as the
beep-a-phone 5 seconds delay, raises
the issue of censorship. Although this
raises concerns about censorship, talk-
back radio is similar to other forms of
media, such as television current af-
fairs programmes or news programmes
which moderated and censored (Luc-
chetti, 2010).
Talk show hosts encourage listeners to
call and voice their opinions. A callers
ability to phone into talk shows and
voice personal opinion is dependent on
what calls the station let through. They
ultimately have power over which calls
broadcast. Listeners may be under false
impression that all callers get oppor-
tunities to air their opinions. This may
21 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
promote the illusion that radio is an
equal medium.
Lucchetti (2010) argues that the content
and format of talk shows will always
be highly infuenced and dependent
on the economic interests of the sta-
tion. The talkback hosts are therefore
also infuenced by economic interests,
as they are persuaded to deliberately
adopt certain personas to infuence and
provoke callers in order to make more
entertaining radio.
Talk shows and confict
Talk shows are not easy to produce. They
are a complex, almost frantic exercise in
juggling technical challenges and intel-
lectual issues like differing perceptions
of truth, and unpredictable human emo-
tions which motivate guests and callers.
And all this complexity has to be pre-
sented to an audience in an easy-to-un-
derstood format in a short space of time.
And surrounding this whole juggling act
are external factors such as the political
climate which may or may not favor the
radios effort to inform the public.
In the short term, no single radio pro-
gramme can resolve a war, low-level
confict or make protagonists do what
they are not already half-convinced to
do. But in the long term, over months
and years, a good talk show can help
change the atmosphere within which
a confict occurs. It can subtly alter the
thinking of a large number of people
so that they are less likely to support
or engage in violent acts. It can make
them more likely to recognize and ap-
preciate common interests and more
likely to trust each other. By enabling
its audience to counter the ideas of the
warmongers, a good talk show will help
audiences imagine ways in which peace
is possible.
Ethical and professional challenges and possible solutions
Challenge Description Possible solution
Censorship The legislative enactments like the
Offcial Secrets Act or National
Emergency laws, or by illegal threat
of violence, governments, military
forces and powerful fgures some-
times believe they have unlimited
rights to control what is aired. This
is censorship and can result in false
information, unbalanced journal-
ism and propaganda. Censorship
destroys the credibility and faith in
the media. Censorship is the enemy
of a free press and is a denial of
Imposing real censorship takes
time, money and personnel.
Constantly test the limits of
safely challenging them. Make
sure that you and the other
radio stations have plans for
responding when a journal-
ist or presenter is arrest-ed.
Ensure support from organiza-
tions relevant organisations
like the Media Council, Article
19 among others.
22 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Impunity A culture of no accountability for
foolish or illegal actions means that
elected offcials and bureaucrats and
other primary sources may refuse to
speak on air. They often think that
they can stop topics being covered
in talk shows by refusing to com-
If a topic needs to be cov-
ered the media should do it,
and state that invited offcials
refused to show up or respond.
Keep a record of who was
invited, and of their response,
or lack of it. And keep inviting
Corruption A culture of buying infuence may
make offcials demand cash for
comment. Or bribes may be offered
to presenters or to their bosses to
ensure that only certain opinions are
Its a fundamental principle
of journalism that we dont
pay for comment. If someone
wants to be paid they have
failed to recognise the value of
having their opinions or ideas
aired. Professionals do not take
bribes. Journalism is not for
Self-censorship Past experiences or fear of powerful
interests may force offcials, sources
and journalists to say less than
they want. Journalists also censor
themselves to avoid losing access to
important fgures. Self-censorship
buries the other side of issues, and
silences diffcult questions. It can
also arise because presenters dont
know how to raise subjects which
caused violence in the past. Self-
censorship can start from a bad
experience and become a bad habit
that destroys professional journal-
The professional journalistic
obligations of accuracy, fair
balance and responsibility
should overcome the frst in-
stinct to hold back, to self-cen-
sor. An accurate and properly
balanced story or programme
is a good defence against criti-
cism from either side.
Control Private owners, including NGOs,
International organisations and
individual commercial owners, often
think that because they own the ra-
dio station they can dictate the type
of coverage and the content.
All radio stations broad-
cast on the public airwaves
and therefore have a public
responsibility not to abuse
freedom of expression, which
is a fundamental right. Fight
back carefully against own-
ers interference. Resisting the
pressure is part of the job of a
responsible presenter.
23 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Intimidation Some owners and managers fear
harassment or the disfavour of
government. They discourage talk
shows from presenting controver-
sial subjects. Advertisers may also
oppose any controversy in pro-
grammes on which they advertise,
and threaten to withdraw advertis-
ing. And there can be intimidation
by managers or co-workers who
want to avoid all controversy to
please special interests. They may
withhold support, resources and
advancement from a responsible
presenter or producer.
Resisting intimidation can be
achieved in small steps, by
presenting diffcult or con-
troversial subjects a bit at
a time, over several shows
separated by days or weeks.
Also, the station should seek
other advertisers more in tune
with the objectives of the talk
show. Resist intimidation in
the workplace by encouraging
professional standards among
colleagues and emphasis-
ing fair balance in talk show
Commercialism Advertising can be a good thing but
too much of it constantly interrupt-
ing a talk show dealing with serious
issues can be a problem.
Popular programmes attract
advertisers but the integrity
and coherence of the pro-
gramme deserves respect.
Explain to man-agers that too
many commercials can make
a show unintelligible and risk
sudden unpopularity which
displeases advertisers. Urge
managers to use fewer but
higher-paying advertisers.
Taboo subjects Some subjects such as sexual issues,
womens rights, or child labour, are
not openly discussed, and in some
countries even religion or ethnicity
are taboo. People can be embar-
rassed or react angrily to discussing
taboos on radio talk shows.
Be sensitive and always explain
to listeners why the issue is
important. Use real peoples
experiences or suffering to
demonstrate the human impli-
cations of taboos. Discuss how
old taboos disappeared.
Trauma Individuals or groups who have
suffered from violence such as rape,
assault, or attempted murder, or
who have escaped genocide may be
almost incapable of speaking about
it coherently.
They fear hostile perceptions, or be-
ing blamed as victims by presenters
or callers.
Again, sensitivity is important.
Meet the guests before the
show to learn what they can
discuss. Remember that they
are victims of illegal violence,
and make sure that your at-
titude is sympathetic. Dont
allow other guests or callers to
blame them for the violence
they have suffered. Allow
trauma victims to be accompa-
nied by a friend.
24 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Cultural restric-
Traditional limitations on peoples
freedom to speak openly because
of their race, caste, gender, religion
or other distinctions can make it dif-
fcult to discuss the confict caused
by these limitations.
Bring victims of discrimination
onto the show to relate their
experiences as people, not
as members of any caste or
group. But it is unacceptable to
bring anyone onto a talk show
to entertain listeners with their
uneducated accent or unusual
opinions. Treat everyone with
the same respect. A talk show
should always be a place of
equal rights.
Own beliefs
and values
Our personal values shaped by our
family and neighbourhood role
models and our life experiences,
are the most powerful infuences
on how we frst react to guests and
callers. A caller or a guest may of-
fend our values with their ideas or
attitudes. Controlling our own anger
can be a challenge.
Journalism training can help
presenters overcome their
beliefs and provide a more
balanced approach. We need
to recognise inevitable preju-
dices and preferences affect-
ing our own choice of words,
and our responses to callers
and guests. We need to think
before responding, and try to
get at the positions and the
interests of our guests and
callers rather than allowing our
own opinions, prejudices and
ideas to dominate. An angry
presenter rarely makes a useful
contribution to understanding
an issue.
Personal expe-
Our own experiences are signifcant
to us, and we may want to bring
them into the discussion.
Talk shows exist frst to inform
the audience. We select guests
with something signifcant
to con-tribute, and we urge
callers to speak freely. Our
role is a facilitator, guiding the
information fow and ensuring
free expression. We stop being
a facilitator if we start relating
our own experiences. And au-
diences may focus on our ex-
periences and opinions instead
of learning guests and callers
opinions, and seeing possible
common ground. A good talk-
show presenter never needs to
use the word I.
Source: Howard, Ross and Rolt, Francis. 2005 Radio Talk shows for Peace building:
A Guide. 2nd ed. Brussels: Search for Common Ground. pp16-18.
25 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Audience perception and
opinion on talk shows in Kenya
Study statistics
Respondents: Sampled audience who had listened to talk shows
programmes in last one month
Sample Size: 139
Response Rate: 89%
Age: 15-25 (23%), 26-35 (34%), 36-45 (21%), 46> (11%), No-response
Gender: Male 72%, female 28%
Education: Bachelors degree 34%, masters 5 % diploma 23%, no-response 38%
Frequency of listenership
Question Response
Have you consistently listened to any of your favou-
rite talk shows in the past one month?
Yes - 89%
No - 10%
No response - 1%
Have you appreciated and enjoyed listening to radio
talk shows because of the set of presenters/hosts in
the talk shows?
Yes - 90%
No - 7%
No response - 3%
Chapter Three
The survey shows that 89% of the re-
spondents had consistently listened
to their favorite shows in the past one
month. 90% of the respondents also in-
dicated that they listened to their favor-
ite show because of the set of present-
ers/hosts. This shows that while there
might be a wide range of reasons why
listeners listen to a particular show, the
presenters/hosts in the show played a
very important role as well.
Audience loyalty
As the chart above shows, 44% of those
surveyed regularly listened to talk
shows while a similar percentage indi-
cated that they sometimes tuned in.
26 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Audience perception of
a hosts competence
59% of the respondents believe that
the hosts on talk radio are competent.
These respondents say the hosts are
adept at presentation, analyzing issues
and controlling discussion. This com-
pares to only 6% who think the hosts
are incompetent. This suggests that au-
diences ratings are informed by a hosts
ability to create promote entertainment
and escapism rather than their ability
to understand and respect the profes-
sional and ethical guidelines.
Favorite component of
the talk shows
The survey shows that music (at 32%)
was the most popular thing on talk ra-
dio. This is closely followed by the hu-
morous presenters at 31%. Only about
a quarter of those surveyed, or 24%,
said they tuned in due to the issue be-
ing discussed. This indicates that major-
ity of listeners and contributors of the
talk shows programmes do so for en-
tertainment than for information and
education. This is informed by the fact
that more than 60% of the respondents
indicated that they listen to music and
tuned in due listen to humorous and
comical presenters.
Gender consideration
Question Response
Is there gender balance when giving op-
portunity to comment during radio talk
Yes - 46%
No - 48%
No response - 6%
Have you ever felt uncomfortable listen-
ing to radio a talk show due to the topic
or comments?
Yes - 59%
No - 39%
No response - 2%
The survey shows that more than half
(59%) of those surveyed have at some
point felt uncomfortable due to the dis-
cussions on air. 48% of the respondents
indicated that there was no gender bal-
ance on radio call-ins. This indicates
that the hosts should fnd ways of en-
couraging women to participate in the
programmes. The hosts should further
consider ways of sanitizing discussions
to help maintain interest from disparate
groups keen on such programmes.
27 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Question Response
Is obscenity on talk shows a turn-off? Yes - 54%
No - 43 %
No response - 3%
Do you believe the hosts are in control of the
Yes - 37%
No - 54%
No response - 9%
Many of those surveyed (54%) believe
obscenity on talk shows was a turn-off.
A similar number say obscenity on radio
persist largely because the hosts are not
in complete charge of the shows. In oth-
er words, audiences believe that hosts
have the capacity to ensure discussions
are appropriate and nonoffensive. Re-
gardless, respondents believe the hosts
do not exercise their moderation power
effectively and often let discussions spi-
ral out of control.
Rating of talk shows as platforms for
discussion of development issues
As the chart above shows, only about
a third of those surveyed, or 31%, be-
lieve the programmes offer just about
enough space for discussing develop-
ment issues. Only about a quarter or
24% of the respondents rated the pro-
grammes as very good and four percent
as excellent. This is indicative of the fact
that few Kenyans see the programs as
platforms for the discussion of devel-
opment issues. Most see them as part
of the growing entertainment culture.
It also shows the extent to which pro-
grammes in Kenya are tailor made for
different audiences. A content analysis,
however, noted that some of the morn-
ing talk shows discussed serious current
affairs and socio-political issues. The
comments aired were however not re-
fective of the seriousness of the discus-
sions on development.
The use of ethnic and race stereotypes
Question Response
Have you heard derogatory remarks based on ethnic-
ity, race, creed and sex during morning talk shows?
Yes - 62%
No - 36%
No response - 2%
Are some comments on some talk shows unverifed
and false?
Yes - 49%
No - 48 %
No response - 3%
28 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
The survey indicates that 62% of those
surveyed have heard derogatory re-
marks based on ethnicity, race, creed
and sex on morning talk shows. This may
also be supported by fndings above in-
dicating that many respondents found
the shows uncomfortable to listen to.
Almost half or 48% of the respondents
thought some of the comments on talk
shows were unverifed and false. Ac-
cordingly, there is clearly some link be-
tween unverifed and false information,
the use of derogatory language and the
level of discomfort experienced by the
Rating of talk shows with
regards to discussion of
public interest issues
Although the meaning of public interest
may have varied based on the listeners
understanding and experience, 40% of
the respondents rated the level of
public interest in radio talk shows as av-
erage. 20% indicated it as good while
1% felt that it was very poor. This results
shows that talk shows may not have dis-
cussed issues related to current affairs,
socio-political development and policy
Effects of the use of fctitious names
Question Response
Does the use of fctitious names affect the quality
of contributions and promote unaccountable and
reckless pronouncements?
Yes - 56%
No - 42%
No response - 2%
Are the discussions constructive, developmental
and serious enough to inform policy issues in the
Yes - 39%
No - 58%
No response - 3%
The survey shows that the use of fcti-
tious names had serious impact on the
quality of discussions. More than half of
those survey or 56% said the use of fc-
titious names gave callers the courage
to engage in invective and reckless ban-
ter. 58% of those surveyed indicated
that the discussions were not construc-
tive, developmental and serious enough
to inform policy issues. These fndings
support the notion that oftentimes the
discussions are trivial and not serious
enough to inform any constructive, de-
velopmental and policy issues.
Audience rating on the
quality and calibre of guests
invited to talk shows
The quality and caliber of guests in-
vited to the talk shows was based on
their ability to give professional, well in-
formed perspectives that are free from
personal biases. Nonetheless, only a
third or 34% of those surveyed ranked
the guests as being of high quality
while 39% and 4% thought they were
either of moderate or very low qual-
ity respectively. The quality of guests
in talk shows may affect the quality of
discussions. Undoubtedly, knowledge-
able guests enrich discussions and help
resolve or respond to serious comments
and questions from listeners.
29 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Presence of stereotypes in talk shows
Question Response
Are morning talk shows loaded with stereotypes
of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, dis-
ability, physical appearance or social status?
Yes - 55%
No - 42%
No response - 3%
Are you aware that the Media Council of Kenya
handles complaints related unethical behaviour
by talk show hosts and the media house con-
Yes - 50%
No - 40%
No response - 10%
The survey indicates that 55% of the re-
spondents felt that the talk shows were
loaded with racial, religious, ethnic,
sexual orientation, disability, physical
appearance or social status stereotypes.
40% also indicated that they were not
aware that they could lodge complaints
with the Media Council of Kenya based
on unprofessional or unethical conduct.
This means that unverifed or false in-
formation expressed on such shows
may not be corrected, or that unethical
and unprofessional behavior may not
be punished. Some of the general ste-
reotypical expressions may have served
to lower the quality of discussions on
the shows.
Rating on host response to issues
and questions from audience
As the chart shows, 51% of those sur-
veyed rated the ability of the hosts to
handle issues and questions from the
listeners professionally as average. 25%
felt they were competent enough. This
shows that more than 70% of the re-
spondents generally rated their hosts
favorably which might have been in-
formed by the likability of the hosts.
Only a small minority or 3% of the re-
spondents rated their hosts as poor.
Presence of cash for comments callers
Question Response
Do you think morning talk shows shape and infu-
ence the listeners general perception and thinking
on issues in society?
Yes - 34%
No - 61%
No response - 5%
Do you think some callers are paid to be sensational
to generate debate and interest?
Yes - 78%
No - 20%
No response - 2%
30 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
As the table shows, many of those sur-
veyed (78%) believe some callers are
paid for their sensational or emotional
views as part of generating debate and
interest in the programmes. And more
than half of those surveyed, or 61% of
the respondents, felt the discussions
shape and infuence general public per-
ception and thinking on issues affecting
society. This shows that the cash-for-
comment phenomenon is common in
Kenyas talk radio. This also shows that
whilst some of the views expressed dur-
ing the shows may interest listeners,
they do not infuence general public
perceptions and thinking on issues af-
fecting society.
Preferred topical issues
of discussions
The survey shows that a quarter of
those surveyed, or 25% of the respon-
dents, preferred the discussion of social
issues like crime, terrorism and insecu-
rity. 22% liked development issues like
agricultural and business while 13%
wanted relationship and family discus-
sions. Others issues that listeners want-
ed to hear education, environment and
religion discussed.
Adverse comments on social media
A social media enthusiast catching up with
updates on her facebook account.
31 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Question Response
Have your ever lodged a complaint with the Me-
dia Council of Kenya on the violation of acceptable
ethical standards on any morning show??
Yes - 2%
No - 80%
No response - 18%
Do callers make inappropriate remarks on social
media (Facebook pages and Twitter handles) of
the morning radio talk shows programmes which
they fear making on live discussions?
Yes - 46%
No - 20%
No response - 34%
Almost half of those surveyed (46%)
agreed that some listeners made inap-
propriate remarks on the social media
(Facebook pages and Twitter handles)
pages of the talk shows. This is particu-
larly worrisome because they could not
express the same on live discussions. A
tiny minority of respondents (2%) indi-
cated they had tried to complain to the
Media Council of Kenya about the viola-
tion of acceptable ethical standards on
the shows. This may demonstrate either
lack of awareness of the complaints fa-
cility at the Media Council. It may also
demonstrate that people are apathetic
about the respect for ethical and pro-
fessional standards on radio talk shows.
Comments on individual
feelings and experiences
63% of those surveyed agreed (34%) or
strongly agreed (29%) that comments
by some callers on individual feelings
and experiences were demeaning, of-
fensive, and insensitive or inconsider-
ate. This shows that some people may
have been turned off by comments
aired on talk shows despite having gen-
uine problems and issues that needed
help and support from others. This may
in effect aggravate the problems further
and alienate some members of society.
Propagation of hate speech on talk shows
Question Response
Have you heard the propagation of hate speech
on morning radio talk shows at any one in the
past one year?
Yes - 60%
No - 38%%
No response - 2%
Do untrained radio talk shows hosts and co-
hosts contribute to the level of unethical discus-
sions during the programmes?
Yes - 51%
No - 46%
No response - 3%
32 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Despite the different defnitions of what
constitutes hate speech, 60% of those
surveyed believed that they had heard
hate speech on morning shows in the
past one year. 51% of the respondents
also indicated that the untrained ra-
dio talk show hosts and co-hosts were
guilty of condoning unethical discus-
sions in their talk shows.
Do talk shows enhance the
watchdog role of the media?
Based on their various understanding of
the term media watchdog, the survey
indicates that 38% of the respondents
rated the performance of talk shows as
watchdogs as average. A ffth of 22%
of the respondents rated them as good
and 14% as very good. However, it is
unclear whether the respondents un-
derstood the meaning of watchdog as
only 57% of those sampled responded
to the question.
Are topical discussions of radio talk shows audience-driven?
Questions Response Statistics
Do you think that the audience contributes to determining
the topic of discussion?
Yes - 24%
No - 74 %
No response - 2%
Do you think the time allocated to callers is adequate for
meaningful and constructive discussions?
Yes - 16%
No - 67%
No response - 13%
A large majority of those surveyed (74%)
indicated that audiences did not have a
say in the selection of topics for discus-
sion. 67% indicated that the radio sta-
tions did not allocate enough time for
the discussion of issues. This, they felt,
was inadequate for meaningful and
constructive engagement with the is-
sues. Accordingly, the shows do not of-
fer opportunities for serious discussion
and engagement with important issues.
Rating of talk shows in terms of
providing platforms for freedom of
speech and interaction as demanded
by the Constitution
Slightly more than half of those sur-
veyed, or 53% of the respondents, be-
lieve the talk shows provide avenues for
serious development and sustenance of
freedom of speech as per the require-
ments of the Constitution of Kenya
33 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Radio Citizen
Topical issues of discussion during
the talk shows
Constitutional implementation.
The warrant of arrest issued by the
by the High Court against the Prin-
cipal Secretary, Ministry of Interior
and Coordination of National Gov-
ernment Mutea Iringo was a matter
of great media interest. The Inspec-
tor General of Police David Kimaiyo
was being challenged to execute
the arrest warrant. Police reforms
are still on-going and the constitu-
tional powers granted to Inspector
General allows him to exercise his
mandate without fear or favour.
Politics. The National Assembly and
the Senate stand on the conduct of
governors. Constituency Develop-
ment Funds utilisation and Orange
Democratic Movement party elec-
tions were issues of media interest.
The Senators and the Members of
Parliaments stand on the judicial
verdict regarding the impeachment
of Embu County Governor Mar-
tin Wambora, where both houses
claimed to be in control of gover-
nors, as they feel they are superior
to the Judiciary. There was a strong
feeling that the two houses need
to understand and support devolu-
tion. The Orange Democratic Move-
ments (ODM) National Delegates
Conference (NDC) was a hot topic
of discussion following the violence
experienced at the meeting. The
chaotic ODM NDC was given a lot
of air time particularly on Waweru
Mburus Yaliyotendeka programme.
After a year of Jubilee Government,
the presenter highlighted various
government failures. National co-
hesion was considered a key failure
as the country was seriously divid-
ed. Corruption is also still a serious
challenge. Food security has not
been realised as people in places
like Turkana continue to experience
serious famine.
Homosexuality. Following Ugan-
dan President Yoweri Kaguta
Musevenis signing of the anti-gay
bill, the matter raised a lot of inter-
est and debate in Kenya. Presenters
asked the audience in the talk shows
to register their views regarding the
issue. The question was whether
they would support a similar legis-
lation in Kenya or not. A majority of
the callers were men (7). Only one
woman called in and they all sup-
ported the idea and expressed sup-
port for the Ugandan President for
enacting the law.
Education. The Constituency Devel-
opment Fund (CDF) contributes to
the education of poor children and
thus was the subject of media inter-
est and debate. The much-anticipat-
ed release of the 2013 Kenya Certif-
cate of Secondary Education results
and became the subject of intense
debate and discussion.
Chapter Four
Analysis of various talk shows
34 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Nature of programme and
topics of discussion
Jambo Kenya show runs from six in
the morning. It contains religious con-
tent (worship), weather, traffc updates,
newspaper reviews and profling of
public fgures. Afterwards Waweru
Mburu presents his Yaliyotendeka pro-
gramme. The call-in show starts im-
mediately after the seven oclock news
updates, and is majorly informed by
current affairs. The audience is asked to
call, text, or post their thoughts regard-
ing the topic of the day on their social
media pages (Jambo Kenya-Citizen Ra-
dio) and via their Twitter handle #Jam-
Professionalism of host in
moderation of discussions
The presenter Lincoln Njogu and Fran-
cis Luchivya have very good moderation
skills. One example is noted especially
in the county focus segment where
they invite legislators to give progress
reports on current affairs and projects
running within their counties. On 25
February 2014, Manson Nyamweya (MP,
South Mugirango) was invited to shed
light on various issues among them:
The role of the National Assembly
and Senate in regards to the gover-
nors performance, county budget
allocations and audit.
The role of MPs in poverty eradication.
Utilisation of Constituency Develop-
ment Fund.
Diffcult questions were asked. For ex-
ample the presenter asked: Who holds
MPs accountable with regards to CDF
Utilisation? Nyamweya response was
that the National Assembly Committee
on CDF is mandated by the Constitu-
ency Development Act 2013 (part 4) to
oversees the utilisation of CDF money.
He further noted that Auditor General
audits the CDF. Utilisation of bursaries
for poor children in his constituency
was addressed. He highlighted some
of the activities he is undertaking with
the CDF and mentioned the construc-
tion of Kisii University as a project partly
funded by the CDF.
Discussions on social media
The station has social media platforms
on Facebook and Twitter.
35 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Other trends/remarks
Profling of the late known business-
man-cum-politician Njega Karume,
whose property was the subject of
public interest.
Waweru Mburus Yaliyotendeka pro-
gramme focused on the dangers
of capitalism, and challenged the
government and politicians to be
inclusive in wealth distribution. He
strongly castigated politicians who
he called selfsh for their exploita-
tion of public resources and obses-
sion with wealth acquisition at the
expense of the ordinary populace.
The match between Gor Mahia and
Esperance was given some cover-
age too.
Sports news was allocated some
good air time.
A majority of callers were male.
A lot of ads run through the show
especially at the last segment of the
Ugandas President Yoweri Mu-
seveni, move to sign the anti-gay
legislation was discussed and both
clowns (Mwala and Wilbroda) said
Kenya should follow suit.
Waweru Mburus Yaliyotendeka
programme highlighted issues of
exploitation, and specifcally men-
tioned clergy robbing innocent citi-
zens of their money.
Their social media pages both on
Facebook (Jambo Kenya-Citizen Ra-
dio) and Twitter handles #Jambo-
Kenya are not actively used during
Citizen bulletins are comprehensive.
Fans request via Twitter the songs
they want played.
The show is educative.
Classic 105 FM
Topical issues of discussion
on Classic 105 FM
Classic 105 FM mainly covered enter-
tainment, relationship and lifestyle is-
sues. The discussion topics were mainly
drawn from newspapers or trending is-
sues on social media. Some topics were
based on the presenters personal expe-
For the two weeks monitored
the topics discussed included:
The frst weeks discussions focused
mainly on parenting and how churches
handle teenage issues (the discussions
on 24 and 26

February, 2014 focused
on the controversial Mavuno Church
poster featuring canoodling teenag-
ers), troublesome teenagers and how
to handle them. The latter issues were
featured on 25 and 27 February 2014.
24 February 2014: The Mavuno Church
poster had gone viral online. The main
issue revolved around church being
coolifed and the debate revolved
around whether the church should re-
sort to such tactics to attract the youth?
25 February 2014: Based on discus-
sions of the previous day, the discussion
revolved around the youth and especial-
ly the diffculty of raising teenage chil-
dren. The discussion referred back to the
poster. The discussions continued for
the third day on 26 February 2014. On
the last day, a pastor and a member of
36 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
the church were invited to participate in
the discussions. A number of related is-
sues were discussed as people called in.
On 27

February 2014 the discussion was
based on a previous day callers claim
that her 16 year old child had run away
from home and was living with or mar-
ried to a boda boda operator.
On the 28 February the discussion was
about love triangles. The genesis of the
discussion was an article in The Star.
The second weeks discussions looked
at different issues. The weeks discus-
sions started with Lupita Nyongos
Oscar win and the reactions on social
media. The host, Maina Kageni, noted
that most women were jealous of the
win. His question: Why do women hate
each other?
On the fourth day he wanted to fnd out
what the audience did when they didnt
perform well in major exams? This was
based on the KCSE results that had just
been released. The ffth days discus-
sions centered on marriage and rela-
tionships. This discussion was followed
by debates on ethnicity and how that
impacted the choice of spouses.
Were there any special features
or thematic priorities?
Relationships, lifestyle and entertain-
ment seem to be the most interesting
topics/themes for Classic 105 FM. Most
of the shows are call-ins although they
had invited guests in on 26 February
Date, nature and gender
of callers
24.02.2014: Nine callers, eight male and
one female. Topic: Mavuno church poster.
25.02.2014: Seven callers, three male
and four female. Topic: Raising teens.
26.02.2014: Six callers, fve male and
one female. Topic: Mavuno church poster.
27.02.2014: Five callers, three male and
two female. Topic: Unruly teenagers.
28.02.2014: Six callers, four male and
two female. Topic: Love triangles.
03.03.2014: Seven callers, two male
and fve female. Topic: Women hatred
for other women.
04.03.2014: Six callers, two male and
four female. Topic: KCSE results.
05.03.2014: Eight callers, six male and
two female. Topic: Dating/marrying
daddys girls.
06.03.2014: Nine callers, six male and
three female. Topic: Ethnicity and rela-
07.03.2014: Six callers, three male and
three female. Topic: Tribalism.
As the breakdown above shows, the
most number of callers in any given
show was nine callers and the least six.
Most of the callers were men. Howev-
er, there are a few instances where the
majority of the callers were female. This
seems to be based on the topic of dis-
cussion. As the above statistics show,
family matters, for example, raising
teenagers and womens relationships
with other women attract mostly female
callers as seen from the 25
and on the
Gender representation
during the shows
The analysis of gender representation in
most talk shows is based on two aspects:
the topic itself and participation in the
discussions. Most discussions tended to
be on women and more specifcally the
negative portrayal of women. For exam-
37 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
ple, on 3 February, the discussed focused
on the hatred women apparently have
for each other. The topic was not neutral
and seemed to portray women as petty
and capricious. Similarly, on 5 February,
the discussion focused on relationships
with daddys girls. Likewise, the discus-
sions were biased against women.
While the discussions focused on fe-
male issues, most of the contributions
were from men except a few occasions
when women outnumbered men. It is
not readily clear why this happens al-
though suggestions have it that men
possess the monetary resources to do
so and that they are more willing to par-
ticipate in such discussions.
competency of host
In most cases, it was apparent that the
hosts were incapable of professionally
handling the talks. They were unable
to either stop or challenge abusive call-
ers or those using invective to put their
points across. The host was also incapa-
ble of challenging the views expressed
and seemed to do so after the caller had
hang up. And only in very few shows did
he give his own views.
Granted, he always detailed the issue,
giving the background and always re-
played the views that had informed the
topic and discussions.
Discussions on social media
The show does not have an online pres-
ence. However the host, Maina Kageni,
had a Facebook and Twitter account
that he used to communicate with on-
line contributors. Few listeners made
their views on his Facebook page pub-
lic although he always admitted people
messaged him privately. The Twitter
handle was not active either.
Breach of the Code of Conduct
for the Practice of Journalism
No direct breaches were recorded. How-
ever, it is worth noting that on 6 Febru-
ary the discussions were on dating and
ethnicity and how that affects spouse
choice. An avid caller known as Wakanai
made brazen and derogatory remarks
regarding inter-ethnic marriage. To him,
such marriages are forbidden even in
the Old Testament and people should
stick to their people. The discussion
was slightly stereotypical as well.
KBC Idhaa ya Taifa
Topical issues of discussion
During the period under review, issues/
topics included family/relationship, ju-
diciary, education as well as economy.
On 25 February 2014, the presenter
asked the question: Mtu anawesa ku-
pona baada ya mpensi kuenda nje? (Can
someone heal after their spouse cheats
on them?). On 28 February 2014 the dis-
cussion focused on broken relationships
and the impact on that has on partners.
Nature of callers and
topics of discussion
Most of the callers were men with high-
est number recorded being 10 callers
per show. Only 2 women called in. Some
shows did record female participants.
Most of the appealing topics touched
on relationship and family issues.
competency of host
During the show, the presenters provide
adequate information on the issues to
be discussed. They also regularly re-
peat it during the show. The presenter
frst asks, for instance, a question and
then follows up with further information
deemed important for the discussion.
Callers did not make stereotypical or in-
sensitive remarks or comments.
38 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Bibilia Husema
The following were some of the issues
discussed during the research period.
Donkey meat consumption
The consumption of donkey meat has
been contentious in Kenya. Claims that
the consumption of donkey meat was
commonplace generated a lot of in-
terest and debate. These were based
on the acceptability of such consump-
tion and whether Christian teachings
condoned it. Most contributions were
based on biblical teachings.
Corruption index and
corruption in the police
The discussions encouraged the audi-
ence to describe how police offcers re-
ceive bribes, and how corruption in the
police service should and can be tackled.
Gender and employment
in Kenya
The discussion was based on a World
Bank report indicating that most em-
ployers still preferred men to women.
The debates also focused on how gen-
der parity can be achieved in Kenya.
The signing of the
anti-gay bill in Uganda
The discussion invited callers to give
their views on the anti-gay legislation
in Uganda and whether law alone can
reduce or tackle homosexuality.
Whether boda bodas should be
banned as a means of transport
The show dwelt with the issue of boda
bodas and whether they should be
banned following the publication of a
report that partly blamed them for the
rising number of accidents.
The morality of Christians
suing each other
The discussion centered on the admin-
istration of justice and whether Chris-
tians should use the courts to resolve
their legal problems.
The doctrine of separation
of powers
The discussion dwelt on the separa-
tion of powers and whether it can work
in Kenya. A constitutional expert was
brought in to offer expert advice on the
doctrine and its application in Kenya.
Were there any special
features or thematic priorities?
Discussions on Bibilia Husema radio
did not have any preferred themes. The
topics were largely drawn from the cur-
rent affairs and human interest issues
that the hosts felt were interesting to
their listeners.
Gender representation
in the Show
Gender participation during call-in ses-
sions was fairly balanced. On average
the men to women call-in ratio was 3:2.
It was evident at some point that the
hosts gave priority to women callers.
competency of host
The presenter moderated the talk show
professionally. The host allowed the call-
ers to express their views and gave them
ample time to say what they wanted to.
The callers were disciplined, polite and
respective to each other. There were few
if any derogatory or insensitive views.
This allowed the hosts to easily manage
the discussion. The topics were not con-
troversial. The show was quite long and
this allowed for comprehensive discus-
sion of the issues.
Discussions on social media
There were no discussions on social media.
39 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Ghetto Radio
Topical discussions in talk
show programmes
The transport crisis occasioned by the
matatu strike was the main topic in the
last week of the monitoring period. The
new anti-gay legislation in Uganda was
also a big topic in the monitoring pe-
riod. The stations call in shows are usu-
ally non-issue based. They often pick
any issue for debate. Some of these
may actually be called too vulgar to
be broadcast in the morning. Most talk
shows are call-in programmes although
they occasionally invite guests to speak
about particular issues. For instance,
on 6 March 2014, Daniel Wechesa, a
business expert from the Kenya Busi-
ness Training School, was in the studio
discussing business planning especially
among the youth. Similarly, on 27 Feb-
ruary 2014, Weru Mwangi, a fnancial
advisor was invited to talk about fnan-
cial planning among the youth.
The call-in shows
There were call-ins at the beginning of
the monitoring although these dwindled
towards the end of the study. The high-
est number of callers was seven. This was
recorded on 25 February 2014 during
which the issue involving a man and a
woman getting stuck while making love
in Nairobis Kikuyu area was discussed.
Gender representation
during the shows
All callers recorded were men.
Professionalism competencies
of hosts and moderators
The moderators were largely unpro-
fessional and incapable of handling
the shows. In most cases, presenters
urged listeners to make vulgar state-
ments. Presenters could in fact be called
cheerleaders who egged callers on to
make obscene and unpalatable state-
ments. The presenters were also inca-
pable of offering professional direction
and could not be considered to have
been in charge. While discussing the is-
sue of the man and woman stuck to-
gether while having sex in Kikuyu, the
hosts kept urging callers to say what
they thought about the incident even
when they had called to report about
traffc. The presenter also insistently
asked callers to say how much they
would charge if they caught a man with
their wives in such a situation.
Ethnic profling
On the same day a male, caller while con-
tributing to the Kikuyu incident, said I
called my friend who lives in Kikuyu to in-
quire about the incident, nikamuuliza huyu
mtu ni kabila gani akasema ni mluhya
ametoa ujinga western akaleta Kikuyu
Translation: I called my friend who lives
in Kikuyu to inquire about the incident
and what tribe the man involved is. He
told me that the man is a Luhya who has
come all the way from Western Province
to do silly things in Kikuyu.
It is evident that Article 25 of the Code
of Conduct (on hate speech) was violat-
ed by allowing such commentary. The
article states that quoting persons mak-
ing derogatory remarks based on eth-
nicity, race, creed, colour and sex shall
be avoided.
Negative stereotypes
On 3 March 2014, the discussion cen-
tered on a Nyeri man who had refused
his daughter to marry a divorced pas-
tor. One of the presenters quipped:
Madame wa Nyeri ni second hand
(Nyeri women are Second hand used
Useless). Article 25 of the Code of
Conduct outlaws quoting persons
making derogatory remarks based on
40 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
ethnicity, race, creed, colour or sex. It
further states that racist or negative
ethnic terms shall be avoided.
Nature of discussions on
social media
The station has a Twitter handle and
a Facebook page although no discus-
sions or posting were put on the sites
during the period under review. The ra-
dio station instead used the platforms
as sites for publishing human-interest
Obscenity, taste and tone
in reporting
Article 9 of the Code of Conduct asks
journalists to avoid publishing obscene,
vulgar or offensive material unless such
material contains a news value of public
interest. Regardless, there is often a lot
of obscene words on air such as ikuss
which refers to a womans private parts.
On 5 March 2014, for example, a
presenter responded to his colleagues
greeting thus: usiku ilikua poa lakini
ikuss nilingojea sana (The night was ok
but I didnt get my conjugal rights).
General observations during the
monitoring period
During the period under review, it
was noted that some presenters use
vulgar and obscene language on live
broadcasts. Almost all call-in shows
during the period surveyed discussed
issues that could hardly be considered
of public interest. Instead the stations
concentrated on what their audiences
were interested in instead of issues of
wider public interest. This shows that
despite the fact that radio plays an im-
portant role of education, information
and entertainment, the quality of talk
radio content is wanting and that many
discussions are not constructive.
41 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
The Nation Centre in Nairobi which houses the
Nation Media Groups radio station, Nation FM.
42 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
The Standard Group premises in Nairobi which houses
the Groups radio station, Radio Maisha.
43 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Practices, solutions and tips
Guidelines for participation
in talk shows
Responsible and ethical discussions are
critical to the growth of radio as an im-
portant medium in society. Individual
listeners can steer discussions and make
critical contributions to issues of public
importance. But such individuals and
their contributions must be informed
by truth and accurate information. It is
therefore paramount that participants
understand the implications of their
comments not only to other listeners
but to the society at large. Participants
must understand the following to make
their contributions meaningful and/or
What are the possible implications
of my comments to other listeners
and society at large?
Would I appreciate listening to the
same comments I want to make if I
am an ordinary listener?
Are my comments adhering to
societys generally acceptable stan
dards of behaviour, norms and
Can my comments potentially cause
hatred, division and intolerance
based on religious, racial, ethnic and
cultural sensitivities?
Are my comments factual, verifed
and contextual to the discussions or
are they merely sensational?
The questions above should be able to
prepare them to participate effectively
in radio talk shows. The advice below
should also help potentiate their contri-
Prepare your comments. Write down
two or three quick talking points you
can refer to during the call. Speak natu-
rally and dont read your talking points
Call early. Popular shows have more
callers than they can handle. If you
dont get in early, you probably wont
get in at all. If you get a busy signal, call
again. Try calling during a commercial
break and be prepared to wait up to 30
minutes on the most popular shows.
Be a resource for the host. One way to
get on the air more quickly is to volun-
teer an answer to a question asked by a
previous caller or offer to explain a topic
raised by another caller.
Make your point quickly and briefy.
If youre lucky enough to get on the air,
dont waste time fawning over the host
or telling a long story. Say what you
have to say clearly and directly. Make
your point, hit it hard, say what you
want to say, and stop. Let the host pick
it up from there.
Hold your ground. If the host inter-
rupts, frmly and politely say, May I
please fnish my point? If the host tries
to take you off-point, becomes aggres-
sive, or insults you, stay calm and re-
state your point. Rude behavior by the
host means youve hit a nerve.
Be calm and polite. You wont impress
anyone by attacking the host. Dont try
to win an argument. Your goal is to air
your opinion for listeners or ask a pro-
vocative question. Sound upbeat and
excited to be on the programme, and
be yourself!
Turn off your radio. Turn the sound off
on your radio when it is your turn to talk
(or as soon as you get in the question
cue). Leaving your radio on will cause
44 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
interference with the broadcast and the
audience wont be able to hear you.
Dont use a speakerphone. Speaker-
phones do not provide producers with
broadcast quality sound and should be
avoided at all costs. If you sound weak
and distant, you stand the chance of
losing the interest of your audience and
upsetting the host. Your best bet is to
use a hands-free telephone headset.
Guidelines for talk show hosts
and technical tips for utmost
Ethical consideration
Make sure that you understand the
ethical guidelines to be adhered to that
are specifc to the programme and to
the topic of discussion. For example,
when discussing issues that will involve
discussion of ethnicity, ensure that you
are familiar with the requirements of
Article 12 of the Code of Conduct.
Plan and research your pro-
Presenters need to be well-informed
about what the guests have previously
said. Analyse the issue for discussion
before the programme to identify struc-
tural and cultural issues and to prepare
questions about facts and positions and
values and interests.
Ensure you are specifc and
narrow your topic
Have a specifc focus before you begin
the programme because you cannot
talk about everything. For example, hu-
man rights and the election is too big
a topic for a talk show. Make the topic
more precise: What is the most ne-
glected human rights issue in this elec-
tion? for example.
Listening skills
For professional talk show, presenters
should adhere to four important prac-
tices: listen, clarify, synthesise and re-
For a talk show presenter the ability
to listen well is as important as the
ability to talk. Listening well is how
we learn to ask questions which
produce revealing answers. Listen-
ing well will help you separate facts
from values, and will indicate when
to direct the conversation towards
common interests.
Skilled presenters also listen care-
fully to the words of guests and call-
ers to make sure the meanings are
clear. Presenters should constantly
seek clarifcation. Mixed messages,
incoherent statements and incom-
plete thoughts should not pass un-
The test of clarity is the presenters
ability to summarise briefy the key
points which guests or callers have
made. If we cannot understand it
well enough to synthesise it, then
our listeners will not understand it
Once synthesised, information can
be reframed, or discussed from oth-
er angles, which may reveal some-
thing new such as facts which can
be agreed upon, or the route to dis-
covering some common ground.
Questioning skills
Effective questions which help profes-
sionally manage discussions will de-
pend upon good techniques and con-
tent. Many of the techniques are basic
to journalism. Do not ask two ques-
tions at once, and always use questions
beginning with the words why, what
and how because they require full an-
45 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
swers. And every experienced presenter
should know how to get expanded an-
swers by using phrases such as: that is
interesting; tell me more or what was
going through your mind when this
Using language carefully
As presenters, the precise words we use
determine whether our questions help
build understanding or reinforce myths
and fears.
Managing angry unpleasant
exchange during talk shows
Howard and Rolt (2005) developed
some simple guidelines that might help
talk show hosts manage their callers
and guests more effectively and reduce
damage or harm. Presenters have
experienced guests who use angry,
threatening language, or callers who
use the radio as a personal megaphone
for their opinions. There are also guests
and callers who argue and interrupt
conversations. The following are some
of the steps a talk show host can take
to mitigate the situation:
Remind guests who talk simultane-
ously that nobody can understand
what theyre saying.
Have commercials, pre-recorded
service messages or theme music
ready to play as interludes while the
hot emotions cool down.
Have letters and emails ready to
read as a diversion from hot talk, or
as a way of introducing new angles
to discussions.
Have pre-recorded messages ready
to play which remind listeners and
guests of the topic and the rules for
discussion on the programme.
Screen the callers. A producer or
other staff should frst receive the
phone call, briefy screen or ask
callers what their question or state-
ment is, and excludes malicious or
incoherent callers. You can invite
journalism students or others to be
screeners. And you can always cut
off an abusive caller.
Do not take negative calls person-
ally. Be interested in why they are
upset, without encouraging their
Be ready to interrupt and remind
guests or callers when they become
disrespectful or stray off the topic.
Presenters must distance the station
from any threats that guests or call-
ers make on air.
The building
blocks of common
ground talk
Listen well
Be alert to the unexpected. Listen
for areas of agreement.
Be proactive
Suggest areas of common
ground. Invite guests to do
the same.
Question assumptions
What are your guests basic assump-
tions about the views of the other
side? Allow other side to respond.
Humanize/build trust
Get to know the people behind the opin-
ions. What in your guests lives made
46 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
them feel so strongly about this issue?
Counter stereotypes
How have your guests personally expe-
rienced being stereotyped, misunder-
stood by the other side in this confict?
Promote dignity
Reframe issues in respectful,
non-judgmental language.
Encourage fexibility
Identify potential gray areas and ex-
plore them with guests. Invite guests
to examine pockets of uncertainty.
Encourage vision
Invite guests to express hopes and
dreams. What in your guests view is
the best that could come out of fnd-
ing common ground?
Source: Howard, Ross and Rolt, Francis.
2005 Radio Talk shows for Peace build-
ing: A Guide. 2nd ed. Brussels: Search
for Common Ground.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The value and infuence of talk shows
can neither be undervalued, gainsaid
nor can the impact be underestimated.
Talk shows create a sense of community
for audiences and opportunities for so-
cial networking. They provide compa-
ny for people who may otherwise feel
isolated or marginalised. They provide
a form of therapy for some audience
members by providing information and
advice about issues, as well as the voic-
es and experiences of others.
In addition, talk shows provide a point
of access to the public sphere for audi-
ences and opportunities to engage in
democratic exchanges. The nature of
talk shows creates an opportunity for
ordinary people to pass on news and
information, to correct public records
and to contribute to the news agenda
of the day. Talk shows also give space to
people to ventilate and in the process
contribute to solutions. Besides, they
are avenues and platforms for engaging
different actors.
Granted, radio talk shows are complex.
The interaction between callers, hosts
and invited guests coupled with the
topics of discussion driven by diverse
interests, sentiments and comments
makes such shows diffcult to manage
or control. The hosts end up juggling
technical and intellectual challenges
given the differing perceptions of truth,
and unpredictable human emotions
that may motivate guests and callers.
Despite the challenges and complexi-
ties, such programmes must be pre-
sented to disparate audiences in an
easy-to-understand language and way
and within a short space of time. On top
of these challenges exist external fac-
tors such as the political climates which
may or may not favor such talk shows.
Whats more, existing and emerging
technological developments as well as
economic and political issues such as
legislations and regulations have in-
fuenced and changed the shape and
content of talk shows. For example, mo-
bile telephony and facilities available
thereon have enhanced radio listening
experiences. People are able to listen to
radio on the move. They can contribute
to debates irrespective of their physical
location. They can interact with produc-
ers, guests and other listeners in real
time. Radio consumption experiences
have thus been signifcantly enriched.
However, the above-mentioned expe-
riences come with various challenges.
People sometimes do not temper their
contributions with reason and respect.
47 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
Some are invective, obscene and in-
sensitive to others feelings and expe-
riences. Freedom of expression comes
with responsibilities and people should
understand that.
The following are some of the recom-
mendations based on the fndings:
1. Radio talk show hosts should exer-
cise professional control and direct
discussions and observe the free-
dom of expression as guaranteed in
the Constitution.
2. Radio talk show hosts should pay
attention to specifc ethical articles
in the Code of Conduct that guide
specifc topical discussions in their
programmes. For example, when
discussions revolve around ethnic-
ity and religion, they should ensure
that Article 12 of the Code of Con-
duct is strictly observed.
3. Radio talk show hosts in collabora-
tion with programmes producers
should apply high levels of mod-
eration and professionalism in their
shows. They should frst receive
phone calls, briefy screen or ask
callers what their question or state-
ment is, and excludes malicious or
incoherent callers.
4. Careful screening of callers and
good moderation skills will avoid
the callers from making bigoted
and derogatory remarks based on
ethnicity, race, creed and sex.
5. Screening of callers should happen
at all times regardless of the discus-
sions. This will ensure the control of
some unruly callers whose aim may
not to contribute constructively to
discussions and debates.
6. Talk show hosts should encourage
their callers to use their real names
rather than fctitious names which
give them courage to make inap-
propriate or reckless remarks.
7. Talk show host should discourage
the use of coded language in what-
ever form by encouraging their call-
ers to make use of plain language.
Coded language may be used to
spread hate speech and bigotry. The
talk show hosts caution their audi-
ence against the use of such coded
8. Callers should be discouraged from
using vulgar language that may cre-
ate ethnic profling and negative
stereotyping. They should avoid
false or unverifed information.
9. Media houses should undertake
proper training of talented and ce-
lebrity co-hosts who do not have
journalistic training and who may
not understand and apply the Code
of Conduct. This will ensure that
they use appropriate language, and
that they remain ethical and profes-
sional during such shows.
48 Free Speech or Cheap Talk?
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