April 13, 2011
A week before the Ocampo Six appeared at The Hague, I was under siege. Whichever TV station I turned to; it was the Ocampo Six news. Yes, the story was important for Kenyans because we were making history of some sorts.
In fact I was amused to see some media houses accuse the 40 MPs that accompanied the Ocampo Six at The Hague. I was amused because the same media houses did send to the same Hague trials no less than 10 members of their crew each to file their stories live from the ICC precincts. Considering that we had at least five media houses represented, one can estimate that there were more journalists than the MPs we quickly condemned to have wasted resources being there.
What did it cost the media houses to maintain their crew at The Hague for ten days for the hearings that lasted a total of 110 minutes? If one considers the air tickets, hotel accommodation, meals and ground transport, each media personnel spent at least US $ 5000 at The Hague. Therefore the 50 journalists and their support staff must have burnt at least US $ 250,000 in the ten days they camped at The Hague.
The zeal with which we got the reports was commendable and we must congratulate Kenyan media for showing interest in the ICC trials very early in the day. In fact what they did at The Hague was not out of the norm. We saw the same zeal during the South Sudan referendum and at the controversial Ugandan elections.
What was disconcerting in the ICC case was the fact that the supposedly impartial media had lost its impartiality. We looked for the days when the media covered Tom Mboya murder trials, JM Kariuki murder inquest and even the Robert Ouko Commission with utmost respect for fairness.
Unfortunately what we saw coming out of The Hague were the worst kind of glorification of the suspects. The media turned suspects into role models and waited with baited breath every word that came from their mouths. And it did not matter that people like William Ruto and broadcaster Sang made fools of themselves in the court room. Ruto’s “movie” story and Sang’s “innocent journalist” though made at the wrong time became instant punch lines.
What was even more intriguing was the fact that the same suspects they were falling over each other to interview in The Hague were the very suspects they had been hobnobbing with for two good weeks in Rift Valley and Central region rallies. One would have expected our journalists to turn to Kenyans and Africans in the Diaspora, foreign attorneys, judges and Ocampo team to give us a different perspective. This unfortunately they did think important. Celebrating suspects of crime against humanity was more important.
Unfortunately, this media trend has been with us for almost two decades. It is this behavior that has turned Kamlesh Pattni into a folk hero and elevated Artur brothers; common criminals into Hollywood stars overnight. Our media find it difficult to differentiate between what is morally wrong and right. They would rather feed Kenyan audience with junk as long as that junk increases their rating.
When Kenya was embarrassed by 40 MPs singing our national anthem in a disorderly manner in solidarity with the suspects, it was beamed to us unedited.
At The Hague were government officials and MPs in support of the Ocampo Six. But there were Civil Society groups that went there to ensure that the voices of Post Election Violence victims were not lost. Unfortunately, the media gave near total blackout to this other voice. What they wanted to say or would have said did not matter. All we could see was the jostling for suspects and their supporters as they left the courts to the extent that even when one of the suspects called Moreno Ocampo an evil man, he was generously quoted.
As I was agonizing over media reports, I wasn’t sure how other Kenyans were coping until I got a consolation from my editor at one of the media houses that was equally flabbergasted with the whole charade.
This week after the Ocampo Six has faded; many Kenyans have come out to condemn a section of the media that went overboard as mouthpieces of suspects during this disgraced period in Kenya’s history.
Hobnobbing with the Ocampo Six did not start at The Hague. It started right here in Kenya a week before they departed. When two of the suspects started holding highly charged and inflammatory political rallies in Central and Rift Valley regions, some media houses saw nothing wrong with giving them maximum publicity including unedited hate speeches they made. One media house went a notch higher. It gave live interviews to these hate mongers right in its studios soon after the “heroes” had returned from the battle front.
The day the Ocampo Six were departing for The Hague, one would have been excused for thinking that Kenya’s Independence Heroes were departing to Lancaster House to negotiate our freedom. It was a media circus of the highest order.
The same scene had to be repeated on the day the two combative suspects and their cronies arrived home. For five hours, one media house chose to follow the suspects live, giving every angle of their gestures, body language and all. Fortunately for Kenyans, two of the most popular TV stations gave them a blackout. The same media houses chose to air cartoons instead.
The despicable behavior of some media this week is a clear indication that if ever chaos erupts in Kenya, the first group to go to The Hague should not be a small local language broadcaster. Mainstream media that are the first to spread alarmist messages- the type that broadcast hate messages with impunity thinking they are practicing good journalism should be the first to be arrested and charged with hate speech and glorifying crime against humanity.
That way, justice will have been seen to be done.