Sunday, December 21, 2008



Sunday, December 21 2008

ON DECEMBER 10, PARLIAMENT dealt a blow to the freedom of the Press and expression by passing the Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008.

MPs were mainly driven by vengeance over the media’s sustained coverage of the taxation of their hefty allowances.

But is the media fraternity entirely blameless?
The media celebrated in 2007 when then Information minister Mutahi Kagwe withdrew the same Bill, citing the need for further consultations and introduction of clauses to deal with cyber-crime and protection for the fibre-optic cable.

But instead of using the window created by the withdrawal of the Bill to highlight its weaknesses and lobby for the removal of the offending clauses, the media concentrated on political sideshows.

Over the years, journalists in East Africa have failed or resisted attempts to establish an effective mechanism for self-regulation. The results have been catastrophic.

In Kenya, wayward journalists have elevated politicians to the level of demigods. In fact, political content takes up most of the editorial space in the electronic and print media.

My friends in the media openly admit that prominent politicians always have the Press in tow because they generously tip reporters for favourable coverage.

Any wonder that all media houses in East Africa often ignore professionals and businesses?

I have been a victim of unethical conduct among journalists too. When invited to a purely professional event, reporters first inquire about the guest of honour.

They display enthusiasm and ask for details when it is a politician depending on his or her perceived prominence. If it is a professional or a corporate leader, they display little enthusiasm.

Coverage is also not guaranteed unless it has sensational political content. And even stranger, some ask for tips to facilitate publication of a good topical issue. I have been asked for bribes by journalists in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

In Tanzania, only one paper published a regional seminar on trans-national crime and money laundering attended by senior government officials in November 2006.

In Kenya and Uganda, similar events attracted a paltry number of journalists and did not even get a mention in the dailies because I refused to “tip”.

It is the prominence accorded to politics by the media in East Africa, which has cultivated unparalleled arrogance in MPs, giving them a sense of invincibility. MPs, who often bribe reporters, believe they can ride roughshod on them and everybody else.

In my capacity as an advocate, chairperson of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners – Kenya Chapter, and a member of the Law Society of Kenya, I warn the media fraternity in East Africa that what has happened in Kenya is likely to be replicated in the entire region.

For now, reduce the level of political content and ignore MPs for one full month. This will put them in their right senses and plunge their arrogance. Accord more space to business.

It is unconscionable to ask groups you have consistently ignored to come to your defence when the monster you have created turns against you.Media can’t cast the first stone.
The Media Council should proactively deal with bribery and “tipping” of reporters.

Captain Wanderi, a retired officer, is a certified fraud examiner and advocate of the High court.