The challenges of court reporting: Is legal training the solution?
This study focused on identifying challenges that Kenyan journalists covering law courts face in the course of their work. The researcher sought the opinion of journalists on what they perceive to be the challenges and whether they think basic legal training specifically relating to coverage of courts would equip them with the requisite skills to cover the courts of law more effective] My interest in this field was triggered by the fact that court coverage is my area of speciality as a reporter with the Daily Nation, having been in the beat since the year 2003 . Within this span of time, I have encountered many hurdles in the course of my work of sourcing and writing.stories from the courts for my newspaper. It is this personal experience that opened my eyes and prompted me to carry out this study with a view to establishing whether the challenges I encountered were "universal" - applicable to other colleagues in the profession and not just myself In this regard, I set out key objectives to guide me in realising results for the study. The major objectives were: * To identify the challenges journalists face in covering proceedings in the law courts. *Determine whether these challenges. stem from lack of training in legal matters. "Find out how reporters assigned Cocover courts cope in view of these challenges, *Determine whether reporters believe legal training would equip them with the .knowledge to competently and easily write and edit court stories. * Find out the rating of courts as a daily source of news for media houses in the country in comparison with other "news beats". To get the results needed, the study targeted a total of 100 journalists both involved in coverage of courts and those in the other beats for interviews through questionnaires sent to them and administered by selected contact persons. The researcher also interviewed six legal experts: three lawyers and three judges to get their opinion as professionals and because they are directly interested in stories emanating from the courts where they are the key players. The data that was collected through questionnaires was analysed into cross tabulations, graphs and pie charts effectively covering the study questions and objectives. Results of the study showed that indeed there are a host of challenges journalists assigned to cover law courts face on a daily basis. Two topmost challenges identified by the respondents are lack of knowledge of how courts operate and unfamiliarity with legal terms and principles in court proceedings. As all these have legal connotations, the journalists as well as the legal experts agreed that indeed training in court coverage was very much in order and would help make journalists more competent in their work. The results also showed that a majority of the respondents preferred the training to be given journalists already in the field as a continuing process. In view of these findings, the study recommends that media houses and journalism training institutions should first and foremost appreciate this need and then take the necessary step uf including court coverage as a unit in the curricula offered by the training institutions. The media houses must be involved in this as they are the direct beneficiaries, being the employers of trainees from these institutions.
Communication, University of Nairobi