Although it seems like ages ago, it has only been three months since Kenya’s 2013 General Elections. Back then, as we Kenyans were busy bashing the international press for biased and inaccurate coverage of our affairs, our own domestic media, having drunk gallons of the peace Kool-Aid, were busy self-censoring and, in some instances, plain ignoring important news for the sake of keeping the peace. All this was done in order to avoid a repeat of 2007-08 when media coverage is believed to have fueled inter-ethnic violence across the country.
Cartoonist Gado recently captured what Gathara describes as “the triumph of form over substance, showmanship over journalism, entertainment over information.”
But the Kenyan media’s retreat from hard-nosed news coverage and analysis was not limited to the elections. Even now the mainstream outlets routinely ignore important news. Recently, I was surprised when one of the main TV stations’ second news item was a story about Kisumu residents’ fascination with a snake that was supposedly being kept by a business owner to bring him good luck. This story, which was aired primarily for entertainment value as no analysis of the situation was given, came before the story on the British apology and
token compensation to the Mau Mau victims of the State of Emergency (1952-9) that resulted in scores murdered or maimed through torture. Every night during the news the Kenyan twitterati express their discontent with the quality of coverage, or in some cases the complete non-coverage of important news.
No one has captured this absurd turn in Kenyan journalism, both during the elections and after, like Gathara over at Gathara’s World (a blog that you should definitely start reading, if you don’t already do so):
Like the poor coverage of stories such as the Garissa “anti-terror” operation, the lack on interest in the delays and shenanigans leading to the release of the TJRC report, the blind fascination with the new administration and mindless parroting of government propaganda, the triumph of form over substance, showmanship over journalism, entertainment over information.
Perhaps the media could start to tackle the undisguised misogyny that has become a staple of our news. Like the humiliation of seven young women whom the media publicly accused of bestiality without offering a shred of proof. Like the Nation publishing a suggestion from one of our prominent psychiatrists that victims of sexual abuse may themselves be mentally ill for wishing to report their abusers. Like TV anchors seeing the funny side of a woman being stripped in public for supposedly dressing indecently. Like the recent article that observed that though still “wonderful, colourful creatures,” women still need men to help them run companies and to presumably cheer the inevitable cat-fights.
Gathara’s call for a review of the editorial process in Kenyan media houses is spot on. I would also add the need to (re)train our journalists. Many of them seem to imagine their primary role to be that of celebrities who constantly retweet the praises they get from viewers as they ignore their duty to inform and analyse the news in the least biased way possible.
Last afternoon I watched in horror (yes horror, because of the subject of my dissertation – see above) as a reporter told Kenyans that government proposals in the budget statement read by the Treasury Secretary would “take effect tonight at midnight.” The reporter clearly had no idea about what the law is on the budget process. The “budget analysts” back at the station had no clue either. Kenyans interviewed after remained equally clueless about the fact that it is their members of parliament that will have the final word on whether or not they pay 16% VAT on unga and other essential commodities that were previously zero rated. It is hard to imagine how Kenyans will be able to have reasonable debates on important national issues in a situation like this.