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The Media switch off... What we need to learn as Kenyans.

Tuesday’s government crackdown that saw the three main media houses shut off from the vast majority of its audience should be a wake up call to the 4th Estate and the general public to reevaluate ourselves as Kenyans first before any other considerations.

The media as the people’s watchdog plays a very important role in informing and protecting the public against the excesses of the ruling elite and in holding governments accountable. However, it is not supposed to plunge itself into partisan politics and keeping the country in a 365-days’ political circus for economic gains.

Yesterday’s defiance of the media to transmit ‘live’ the purported NASA leader Raila Odinga’s swearing in was one of the most unfortunate decisions in our media history. How does a responsible media hype an illegality despite the fact that one of their core duties is to inform?

It is an open secret that the media were more interested in the sideshows rather than the function itself and the reason that they insisted on the broadcast was to show a possible clash between the police and the opposition supporters. They were interested in the negative and inflammatory sentiments that would come out of the leaders, simply because that is what that would sell and make headlines, regardless of the outcome of such irresponsible utterances.

Media professionalism involves responsibility, which includes reporting with accuracy, fairness, without distortion of information and selection of truly important news for the people. The media is supposed to shape how the society operates by articulating ideas and influencing perceptions and attitudes.

This simply means that it should cultivate the proper balance between self and collective interests which, sustained by the interaction with the community, is important for social order.

The media should always adhere to very high professional standards and uphold neutrality by only taking a stance in public interest, not parochial interests.

The country at the moment is at its most sensitive moment where any silly mistake can ignite a fire that will be very difficult to extinguish.

The purported swearing in Raila and his deputy Kalonzo Musyoka was aimed at setting up the stage for a revolution in this country. That is the bare truth. Though we fought to protect the freedom of expression and free speech, acts that might incite violence are not free speech. 

The modus operandi and design exhibited by the media today is reminiscent of the 2007-8 post-election violence in which more than a thousand people were killed on the basis of careless reporting and false propaganda spread via the media. 

The media is expected to report inflammatory political speech in a manner that is both accurate and least likely to provoke violence. Unfortunately, the Kenyan mainstream media has of late been completely out of hand inciting violence through their irresponsible journalism.

There has been a lot of complains in recent times against the Kenyan media over the way it has handled the Kenyan political arena. The media has been accused of distortion of facts by placing improper emphasis of one aspect of a story, either by reporting the facts out of the context or by suppressing relevant available facts.

It is a sad state of affairs that the media is being used too often to openly incite acts of violence against fellow Kenyans in the guise of ‘freedom of the press’. The mainstream media has been used to glamorise, incite and wink at criminal violence as somehow ‘justified’ and ‘right’ because the media writers and their editors do not agree with a certain political wing’s views.

There has been a broad series of praise for public criminal violence in the media and more cagey publications phrasing as if such violence ‘was ok’ just because they were perpetrated by people ‘friendly’ to the media stations concerned.

They have been in the forefront in glorifying inflammatory sentiments by the political class and those inciting hate and polarising the nation are given prominence on our screens. There has been an increase in strident and extremist tone of ‘reporting’ and acceptance of ‘opinion’ voices which seek to attack and disparage fellow Kenyans.

Political inclinations, obsession with economic returns and tribalism are key issues degrading media practice in Kenya. The country is sharply divided by the two main political outfits, Jubilee Party and NASA, and the media has not been in any way different. Their opinions on various issues especially concerning the three Arms of Government (the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary) and constitutional bodies like the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission (IEBC) have been so biased depending on the side of political divide their editorial policies prescribe to.

This has dictated the kind of news items and political analysts they present on their platforms and it does not require rocket science to identify which side of political divide each media house secretly supports.

It is also an open secret that media houses do ‘sell’ headlines and prime airtime to the highest bidder. Thus, the media sees nothing wrong with certain public incitement and praise of criminal violence and will use their might and vast media reach to castigate or silence other sources that expose this vice.

It is in the same vein that the media will hype ‘police brutality’ but turn a blind eye on the criminal elements engaging in the violence and crime that attracted the police action in the first place. The media treats what these ‘criminals’ say as the gospel truth but blacklists anything that comes out of the police as outright lies and defense for abuse of authority.

The media too glorifies lawlessness and violence via social media through proxy blogs which they use to say what they themselves are unable to due to the laid down legal checks and balances manning their profession.

NB: All mainstream media houses in Kenya run separate blogs away from their mainstream sites.

In a nutshell, lack of media professionalism is one of the greatest challenges facing this country. The role of journalists has been challenged by the social media which has become the key source of information for most people even though what is put on social media is mostly rubbish. In the fight to retain their relevance, the mainstream media and most journalists have ended up playing ball.

However, journalists have to continue to be journalists and should conduct their activities according to high standards of ethics, accountability, legality and credibility, while exercising rights such as freedom of expression and information. Ethical values are crucial in the way journalists shape content, hence the need to examine them critically in journalism practice.

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