Tuesday, January 12, 2010



By Prof. Herbert Oburra
School of Medicine
University of Nairobi
January 12, 2010

The proliferation of various applications of information technology took the world by surprise at the beginning of two decades ago. There was however concern from various quarters that although the prospects and opportunities arising from the new technology were abound, Africa as usual would not fully exploit the opportunity.

Consequently it is not a surprise that the FM stations currently operating in Kenya transmit information which is not in the interest of or relevance to the majority of Kenyans considering the level of socioeconomic development, literacy rate, moral perception and cultural values of the audience.

Most of FM stations are talk stations staffed by people lacking in basic training on mass communication, many are failures in basic education and life in general, and some are perverts while others are better classified as street comedians. Hence it is not surprising that these stations end up being agents of misinformation, proliferation of pervert behavior and glorification of immorality.

Many times, the content of the broadcasts are irrelevant to our situation and add no value to the life of the ordinary Kenyan audience because they are hollow and border on idle talk and gossip. Moreover the broadcasts do not take into consideration the composition of the audience in terms of age and time.

For lack of ideas, many FM stations concentrate on talk shows, which are usually live. Participants would ring the FM stations airing all sorts of experiences, complaints and advice, expecting instant advice, praises or comments. Many of such issues demand a mature and experienced talk coordinator with above average knowledge in psychology, religion and moral values. He or she should have some sense of social responsibility and maintain some form of moral sense in his show.

Where a caller has expressed an idea that is not palatable to the targeted audience, the presenter should immediately show his moderating skills and if necessary, tactfully direct the talk to an acceptable theme. It is necessary that the broadcaster if condition warrants, should give the official editorial stand on the issue. This however is not the case in our FM stations.

Youngsters with no marital experience, and who have had no experience in bringing up children give advice to couples who are in marital discord. They even advise children on codes of conduct in certain situations where they are least qualified to comment.

When presenters venture in technical issues, there is no advanced research on the topic of discussion and the information presented is usually a misrepresentation of concepts.

I will now cite particular situations to elucidate my concern at the way these FM stations are run. Sometimes last year, an FM Station ran a morning show featuring the value of DNA technology in identifying paternity of a child.

In the station was one specialist of such technology who advised everybody to take advantage of the newly acquired technology to unmask illegitimate children. A few weeks later, in the same show, the same presenters during the show ran a talk show where it was alleged by many callers that over 90% of second born babies are conceived out of wedlock. It was a field day for many women callers who gloated that their husbands were oblivious to this fact and that indeed their second born babies and even many others were not their husbands’.

It goes without saying that this particular show runs from 6 am to 10 am when many children in urban areas are with their parents being transported to school or having breakfast at home. Many parents had to field difficult questions from their inquisitive and shocked children and issues to clarify.

As if this was not enough, a few weeks later, the same station ran a show whose theme was the behavior of brides and bridegrooms on the eve of the wedding. The insinuation was that the majority of brides had sexual intercourse on the eve of the wedding. In this situation, many chauvinistic male callers rang bragging their exploits on their former girlfriends turned another man’s bride on the eve of the wedding. Obviously, on this particular day, many mothers were at difficult pains to answer searching questions from their children and husbands.

In the above circumstances, the talks were ill timed; beamed to wrong audience and the callers were obviously not randomly sampled, if not intentionally pre-selected. The message on DNA technology was unprofessionally packaged. The main use of DNA technology is not to break families.

It defeats logic to randomly prove paternity of one’s children in the absence of precise legal indications. It goes without saying that these same parents would never contemplate proving their own paternity in the absence of legal demands. Moreover, practically, the father of a child is not necessarily the biological father, but any male who acts the role of a father during childhood.

Why should one expose an innocent child to such unnecessary suffering? It would appear to me that these particular shows were choreographed to support those who supply DNA technology and to attract as many listeners as possible. Still late last year, various FM stations virtually ran a campaign advising Kenyans that homosexuality and lesbianism are an accepted alternative lifestyle in Kenya.
The view of the vast majority of Kenyans of all religious shades and even atheists is very clear and such insinuations could only serve the interests of certain errant NGOs or organizations interested in servicing alien tourist erotic behavior.

In other circumstances, some FM radio stations peddle excitement to war and violence. Still last year, a lead presenter in a sister station to the above station advised its listeners to terminate a politician and feed him to hyenas. Still on this issue, an FM station beamed to Rift Valley audience has been always at it with misinformation about the Mau Complex preservation exhorting its audience to spare no effort in fighting off people who have no business in the region.

In the early part of this decade, the media was encouraged to preach openness in sexual matters to help fight AIDS. The FM stations immediately equated openness to explicit obscenity. It did not occur to FM station programmers that sex education can be equally effectively transmitted in using appropriate language to the appropriate audience.

Currently, obscene language depicting sexual intercourse is the order of the day in these programs and sex issues are dragged into issues even where they do not apply. Another issue of concern in FM stations is the quality of language used to communicate with their audience. Frequently, the language used is not only vulgar and uncouth, but also linguistically wanting. The English language used is full of slangs. Their radio presenters’ command of Swahili is next to zero.

These FM broadcasters end up in belting out a mixture of the two languages, a situation which is of no future benefit to language development and verbal expression of our children. While in the whole world today, the prominence of English language in general communication, commerce, conferences and academic world is in its exponential rise, we are busy killing our first official language of communication with some sort of jargon which is of no future use to any one. The Swahili language which cements our regional and political identity has been relegated to oblivion.

The power of electronic media in the public is phenomenal and if not well harnessed, could have catastrophic effects. Over 60% of the Kenyan public have access to radio and most of our youngsters regard media personalities as role models

As human beings we are the pinnacle of living things in this world. While animal behavior is based on inborn instincts and knee jerk response to whatever memory they may retain, human behavior is guided by reason based on past experience, code of ethics and morality. Religion forms a foundation of our moral behavior which in turn controls orderly progression of our species. All these tenets of our society have to be reflected in whatever information is being transmitted to all shades of the Kenyan public and especially our children.