World Federation of Science Journalists

How Violet Otindo’s TV story made a difference


December 22, 2011

Violet Otindo’s TV story, ‘The price of protection’, first broadcast on Kenyan television (channel K24) on February 25, 2011, revealed that there was an acute shortage of free condoms in some parts of the country, particularly in the northern Isiolo region. This situation had apparently led to unheard of practices for protection against HIV/AIDS like washing and reusing condoms, or using plastic bags instead of condoms.

A few days after Otindo’s broadcast, and ensuing local media reports, the Kenyan government held a press conference admitting there was a condom shortage and announced they had appealed for emergency funding to purchase 45 million condoms. This announcement triggered national and international media attention, and fuelled intense public debate. Within days of the government’s announcement, the Red Cross kicked in with an emergency shipment of condoms. Kenyan government administrators admitted that the media hype speeded up the government’s response to mitigate a serious public health issue.

Reflecting on her experience in researching, filming and broadcasting this story, Otindo said: “I had never done such a high impact story in my life. Knowing that people got help after such a simple story means I can do much more. I am glad I took a leap of faith with the help of my mentor, Lynne Smit, and some little funds from a different source to highlight this story. I could have chosen to be quiet, but I didn’t, and it paid off.”

Violet Otindo credited her mentor’s support through the SjCOOP program and the financial aid from Internews in helping her realize this story. She also recognized that the media echo that followed her initial broadcast had a huge impact in speeding up government action.

“We may not all be doctors to directly save lives, but as journalists we can do it in a different way,” she proudly noted. Indeed, media coverage is essential in bringing acute problems in the public domain, as SjCOOP evaluators of Violet Otindo’s story and its impact have concluded. It can be done with comparatively small means, a lot of dedication and enthusiasm, professional advice from mentors and colleagues, and cooperation among journalists.

To view Violet Otindo’s feature story “The price of protection,” go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZPhHdzW_ps

Violet Otindo is a mentee in the SjCOOP project of the World Federation of Science Journalists. SjCOOP is essentially a peer-to-peer mentoring scheme.


What makes for a successful SjCOOP mentee-mentor relationship?
In Violet Otindo’s own words, both mentor and mentee need to be “passionate and interested in the subject matter.” The mentor needs to be knowledgeable and willing to share her/his knowledge, be well connected, and easy and fun to associate with, while the mentee should be ready to think out of the box and challenge the mentor, willing to learn and be open to criticism, and, of course, be easy and fun to associate with.

Violet Otindo – Kenya (the mentee)
In 2009, Violet Otindo, a young Kenyan television producer/reporter received the CNN African Journalist of the Year award – Environmental Award Category for stories she reported on in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. “Embakasi 1 and 2” were stories about a slum area in Nairobi where 50,000 people live with no sewage system, no proper toilets. Since winning this award, Violet has gone on to produce stories depicting life challenges, letting “the people’s voices be heard.”

Lynne Smit - South Africa (the mentor)
Lynne Smit worked for 28 years as a reporter and sub-editor on various publications in South Africa and the UK before founding Of Course Media, an association of freelancers, in 2006. She has a passion for science and enjoys translating the most technical terms into simple, understandable language.