To Whose Tune are Kenya's Media Dancing?

Pardon me if I sound dismayed. You bet I am. I am dismayed at the manner in which some sections of our Kenyan news media treat us as consumers of their products. I sometimes feel that I am being treated like a dimwit who couldn’t make up his mind. A clich├ęd and over-used statement is that the media play an important role in a society. They inform, educate, and entertain. At least they used to anyway, before the Internet came along and gave us the power to seek all of the above by ourselves. But reading some of our newspapers, you may want to add: embellishment, partisanship, innuendo, half-truths, fooling us, and basically overt political lobbying and advocacy. For one, you would be excused if you mistook some of them for political propaganda newsletters. They are experts in “exposing” “scandals”, which turn out to be nothing but proxy wars.

Granted that Kenya, being a country that’s perpetually in a political campaign mode, there is no shortage of political stories and scandals of all types. But instead of the media reporting objectively and letting us make up our own minds, they take up a story, turn it upside down, add spurious “facts” and present it in a completely partisan format, leaving no doubt as to what their agenda is. All of them do this. The Daily Nation, for example, recently was obsessed with an attempt to dethrone the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Chairman, Bethuel Kiplagat, in a way to suggest it had been hired by someone in the civil society. His only crime? He, like virtually the entire current political class, served in the Moi government. Some of them, in fact, served in extremely powerful positions. But they are now sitting pretty in public-trust positions – and yet not a finger has been raised for their removal. If this does not elevate double standards, I don’t know what does. But to hear the drumbeats against Kiplagat, you’d think the guy committed genocide of the Interahamwe scale. Again, while they all do this, some media houses are one step ahead in mediocrity. Surely, if you want to fool me, at least do it intelligently.

First off, let me state that I have several friends in the media, many of whom are diligent world class journalists, whom I admire greatly, and whose works I read avidly every day. My ire is more toward the houses themselves, since policy is set by the management. This is not to say, however, that some journalists do not leave a lot to be desired. But that’s my peeve for another day.

So, let’s take the main header of the online Standard of Saturday May 15, 2010. It screams: “How Group Schemed Against Raila”

The story by Gakuu Mathenge, with additional reporting by Oscar Obonyo, went on to reveal that there had been a plot to “snatch the constitution review momentum from Raila and ODM, derail, stall or kill the whole process,". And the recent discovery of altered copies apparently, is part of the grand scheme.

Now, while it's entirely true that there are evil busybodies - most probably the same ones who engineered the 2007 fiasco - who are bent on trampling on the civil liberties of Kenyans, the story was wholly inadequate in illuminating the truth about the perpetrators behind this sabotage against the people of Kenya. Instead, it was long on innuendo, hearsay, half-truths and circumstantial evidence – all in an attempt to “prove” that Raila IS the injured party. Even then, there is nothing in it to factually prove that this whole scheme was all about snatching the constitution review momentum from Raila and ODM. Which in itself begs the question: Were Raila and ODM alone, the drivers of the constitution reform process? That’s certainly something few of us were aware of. You would think that the Standard’s outrage should have been directed at a scheme to deny Kenyans a chance to decide their destiny, rather than a politician’s. That’s an outrage!

The story did not tell us exactly who, what, how, where and why this scheme was carried out, but instead, hiding behind anonymous sources, the story strings together information that’s already in the public domain, drops names and events, but in the end, I am left in as much darkness as when I started. The illegal alteration of the constitution is a grave crime committed against the people of Kenya. I would have thought that the Standard should have spent adequate resources to un-earth the whole truth, in order to drive this important point home. Instead, it’s crying foul about how Raila and ODM are being schemed against. This is a manifestation of a compromised news media whose current agenda is at cross-purposes with its traditional objectives. It just makes me wonder whose tune the Standard is dancing to. More importantly, especially during this period when political temperatures are beginning to rise, whose interests do Kenya’s media serve?

James K. Sang
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