Saturday, October 29, 2011



By Milodred Ngesa

This article was written on the eve of August 2010 Referendum

I do not want to feel cold after August 4th 2010. 

Infact, I am hoping that Kenya’s winter will be over with the last vote that is cast in the referendum polls, who knows? Maybe on August 5th, the sun will shine so bright in the hearts of Kenyans to remind them that not an ounce of loyalty to the “reds” or “greens” is worth any spill of blood. How I wish my colleagues in the media would prioritize coverage of Kenya’s referendum campaigns 2010 as if the entire sunshine of the nation depends on it! 

It is hard to speak of sunshine when the referendum campaigns are doing a perfect job of chilling scenarios across the country.

These days, before you step out of the house, you think twice about donning that red or green blouse….in case your wardrobe choice is misinterpreted to reflect your bias in the referendum vote. 

This by the way, is the kind of contemplation I wish our media houses would reflect on before choosing to go to town with the splash of the day.

This debate is engaging; “Should Media houses be allowed to take sided in the referendum debate? Should they be allowed to take sides in any coverage at all?”.
Many years ago, while still in Journalism school, this question would have elicited defiance from many a journalist wannabes because it is a question that almost boarders on the absurd - one that makes a mockery of objectivity. Objectivity we were taught is the backbone of good journalism practice or is it not? 

Long since earning my right as a qualified journalist (tried and tested in several newsrooms) I now appreciate the fact that lessons learnt in a classroom and realities in a newsroom are as different as night is from day. When the good don drums it in your head that balance is the guiding stick for every credible media house worth the name, he conveniently forgets to feed you the bitter pill that is the reality of media practice. This stinking reality is the very bane to professional ethics as exemplified in coverage of the referendum campaigns.

With pursuit for professional excellence comes the pressure for commercial superiority, an aspect that throttles professionalism holding it hostage to the pens that sign big cheques. Any successful media house will tell you that messing-up with giant advertisers amounts to strangling the whole enterprise, so if advertisers cough in red or green buckets then that is exactly the colour of the day the media house will slant towards. 

The same goes for control and ownership of media houses where the money-bags rape editorial policies and craftily invade editorial content. Of course there is the other thorn,that of allegiance to tribal chieftains and loyalties to political party affiliations by media managers, but then, this is generally a Kenyan weakness or is it not?
Today as I flip through Newspaper pages and hop across various news channels in the country, I get this nagging realization that something is ailing our media. 

Behind the desks of Peace Pen Communications where I am filling copy, I can hear the hum and buzz of colleagues on the other side of the room debating this very same question as they go about monitoring coverage of the day. It is a routine we have mastered over the last couple of weeks – a routine that is bringing daily disheartening verdicts of why and how media ethics in Kenya is taking a nose-dive in the face of external interference in the campaigns. 

Will the media survive this freezing onslaught on the profession in this referendum period? Will the sun ever shine in media houses after the last referendum vote is cast? Stay with me and get answers.

Mildred Ngesa is the founder and director of Peace pen Communications