Sunday, March 2, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
March 2, 2008

Kenya’s most famous newspaper cartoonist bumped into me the other day in a shopping mall. He asked if I could write an article that would really analyze the media’s role in Kenya’s pre and post election fiasco. Being a leading cartoonist for a leading newspaper, he was convinced that the media in Kenya, like political parties and the church stood accused.

The same evening; as I sat in my living room watching Salim Amin of Camerpix and Jeff Koinange on K24 news channel, I thought Amin made a lot of sense when he told Koinange to his face that the local press failed Kenyans in their hour of need. Amin was worried that the local media treated Kenya’s tragedy the same way any distant Western press had done. He had the presence of mind to remind Koinange that immediately clashes subsided, the international press vanished. They were no longer interested in Annan’s peace efforts!

I have been watching Jeff Koinange’s K24, All Kenyan All the time! And I have been wondering aloud how Kenyan the station has been since its inception especially in the heady days of Eldoret, Nakuru and Naivasha massacres! At one point I felt like that big K should have meant something else but Kenya!

In K24, Koinange brought with him the baggage of his CNN days that Salim was trying to refer to when he said that Western media would always zero in on Africa’s tragedy forgetting that many positive things were happening on the continent. As predicted, Koinange retorted with that overused line that good news was no news at all!

This article is not about Jeff Koinange; rather it is about the media in Kenya. If K24 recycled Eldoret footages for weeks on end without bothering to tell us that those were last month’s clashes, we cannot condemn him because every media house did exactly the same thing. Koinange’s intention was to let us weep over and over again for the victims of his viewers. And they were carefully selected in terms of footages, guest interviewees and especially children who had lost both parents.

Earlier interviews and footages had a strong bias for a particular community. Looking at K24 then, one would have thought that only once community was massacred and displaced in Eldoret, Nakuru and Naivasha. Yet, this was K24, All Kenyan All the time at its best!

Right now there is mail doing the rounds on the internet naming which media house and journalist supported or campaigned against which party during the elections. In this mail, almost every journalist who matters in Kenya has been named complete with cash rewards and other material benefits they received from which politician or political party.

While I will dismiss this mail as a fabrication which it is; we cannot deny that the media took sides in the election contests of 2007. Knowingly or unknowingly media houses aligned themselves to political parties along ethnic lines. This happened among Media CEOs, editors and cascaded down to news editors and reporters. In the end we had pro ODMK, ODM and PNU operatives in the newsrooms.

As the fight gained momentum, some Media CEOs and former CEOs seconded themselves to their respective party offices of choice to help in shaping the spins. It was a do or die dog-fight among media houses.

In the end, the media turned ODM, ODMK and PNU into bull fighters where respective media houses had their prize fighters to cheer on to the battle field. The motivation here was two fold; increased sales for newspapers, increased audiences for electronic media and of course to keep the election funds flowing in to their respective bank accounts.

Had the media remained true to its code of conduct, had it remained faithful to its code of ethics, perhaps the tragedy that befell Kenya would have not occurred! Had the media become more cautious, inquisitive an investigative, perhaps we would have known that Rift Valley would explode if results were stolen! But they didn’t because they were busy salivating for the final prize that their respective bulls would win!

Which brings me to my last point: how come when politicians are campaigning for office, instead of the media helping the electorate to unmask their characters the way the American press goes about it, our journalists become mere messengers of falsehood to the electorate? How come as soon as these politicians get into their positions of power, the first victim becomes the same media that helped in their campaigns?

Didn’t we see the new Minister for Information try to muzzle the press in the first week in office? Didn’t we see the press denied live coverage soon after the elections under the pretext that they would aggravate the post election conflict? One wishes the media would learn and tread more carefully when dealing with the political class. Yet, this is easier said than done!