The Daily Nation has a screaming headline: Media freedom in Kenya under threat (left). Accompanying the screaming headline is an old photograph from 2013 when Journalists went on the streets to protest the enactment of a draconian media bill by the Uhuru Kenyatta government that the same media had strongly supported. Then as now I searched my heart and found no sympathy for the mainstream media. That media abandoned Kenyans a long time ago and embarked on a journey of making as much money as it possibly could. The Kenyan Mainstream media no longer cares about the issues that matter to anybody but itself. It has become shamefully partisan and lends itself to be used to oppress Kenyans.
These are very serious accusations that require substantiation. I shall therefore attempt to at least justify the accusations:
1. 2013 Election
The Mainstream media took sides throughout the campaign. There were two main competing sides in that election: CORD and Jubilee. The media largely sided with Jubilee. The reporting and editing was so blatantly biased that it was shameful to read, listen and watch. The old KBC tactics of editing Octogenarian Oginga Odinga to look foolish and unPresidential was sidestepped in preference for subtle but devastatingly effective methods.
The print media started publishing photos of the opposition that suggested “violence”. Raila would almost never be published in a suit. He would be shown on TV addressing a rowdy crowd. There were many stories where the images broadcast had no relation to the event. The editors found it necessary to discard the fresh and relevant videos and images in preference for archive material that then allowed them the freedom to manipulate what CORD leaders said.
Photographs of CORD leaders were zoomed in exposing birthmarks and in the case of Raila an ugly scar he got either in detention or from a road accident. Kenyans became more familiar with the scars on Raila’s face than his policies.
The same media began re-writing and re-telling the Post Election Violence story. It ignored the Kriegler and Waki reports and broadcast unfair accusations directed at Raila without editorial fact checking or giving the aggrieved side a chance in the same clip to respond and provide the other side of the story.
During the presidential debate, Julie Gichuru of Citizen TV shamelessly accused Raila of having been in government “when these decisions were being made” but treated Uhuru Kenyatta as being an outsider. The fact that Uhuru Kenyatta was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance was lost to her. Not that she had much to contribute being so poor at asking questions that she then answered but she appeared to have come with a strong anti-Raila bias.
2. The use of “Experts”
The media hired persons who were either on the Jubilee payroll or grossly partisan in Jubilee’s favor to offer “expert” opinions. It was clear that the persons were anything but experts and that the only reason they were brought was to spread Jubilee election propaganda. They misrepresented simple facts. One accused Raila of being behind the ICC trials and the TV anchor let it pass unchallenged. For the first time in my life I found myself wondering just how we ended up so foolish and ignorant “professors”.
3. Calling it for Uhuru
As we waited for the results of the 2013 elections and it became clear that something had gone wrong, the media collectively subjected Kenyans to a news blackout. Kenyans new nothing about what was going on. Later we came to learn that the media either voluntarily (out of partisan political interests) or on the orders of General Karangi (which they were under no legal obligation to follow) decided to launch the blackout against Kenyans. All the protests by the opposition of the tallying fraud, the throwing out of CORD agents from the tallying hall and the discrepancies of the results played out in the dark. Press conferences by CORD leaders did not get a single mention. And when the Karangi and his rigging machinery were ready, they gave the order for the media to declare Uhuru Kenyatta “elected”. The media saluted and obeyed.
4. Accept and Move On
The same media then went on a new campaign to silence any protests against electoral fraud. The Uhuru Kenyatta hired spin doctors started the “Accept and Move on” campaign which was then picked up and owned by the Mainstream Media. Gory images from Post Election violence were uncritically screened with viewers of TV being warned that the same may happen if “Accept and Move On” is rejected. The person being bullied and intimidated was none other than Raila Odinga. He had just been robbed and the media that had acquiesced in the robbery was now pretending to be neutral and wise, urging him to “do the right thing“.
5. Saba Saba
If I had forgiven the Kenyan media for all the above sins, its conduct during the Saba Saba day commemorations. The media decided to go on a self-imposed censorship. All rallies held around the country were given a blackout. There would be no mention and whenever there was, the video clips would be edited to conform to a certain narrative: (a) The rallies are poorly attended even boycotted (b) The idea (saba saba) is not popular (c) The leaders especially Raila are violent.
I therefore see no reason to cry for the Kenyan media. I will save my precious tears for something or somebody worthy of them.
I am not alone: recently when the mainstream media switched itself off and hoped to see Kenyans protesting at missing those scantily dressed female anchors that compete on who between them dresses most outrageously, they were surprised to see Kenyans quite happy to be rid of them. The mainstream media then staged a climb down operation and resumed transmitting. I wish they had stayed closed. The level of ignorance that they spread would have been reduced.