MEDIA THROWING THIS COUNTRY TO THE DOGS


By Jaymo Wa Thika


As the debate on BBI starts to take shape and the politics of 2022 elections creep in, the political temperature in the country has started rising. Politicians have started spitting venom against those they perceive to be their opponents. As we speak, the country is currently at a very sensitive moment where one silly mistake can ignite a fire that will be very difficult to extinguish.

It is sad to admit that this animosity is being triggered by what the people consume in the name of news. There is a direct correlation between what the media feeds their viewers with the behaviour of the people consuming their content over time.

I will not also stand here and absolve social media from blame. This too is another time bomb altogether. What people are discussing and sharing across these platforms borders to treason as opposing sides insult and threaten each other over their political inclinations.
Just recently in America, we saw a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that had been fueled by years of false statements, conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric. If this could happen in the US, what about an infant democracy such as ours that is dogged by negative ethnicity and class wars? We got to be very careful.

The media plays a key role in shaping how society operates 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.

However, the Kenyan media thrives in fueling animosity by giving prominence to the verbal diarrhea by our Kenyan politicians. In fact, every positive aspect of the news is given a wide berth and all the bad things said by these politicians are given prominence regardless of the dangers they pose to this country.

Though we fought to protect free speech, acts that might incite violence are not free speech. Common sense demands that the media gives inflammatory political outbursts a total blackout and if they must report them, do it in a manner LEAST likely to provoke violence. However, Kenyan news are very inflammatory, hate-inciting and aimed at polarising the nation. The media has been completely out of hand inciting violence through irresponsible journalism.

There has been an increase in strident and extremist tone of ‘reporting’ and acceptance of ‘opinion’ voices which seek to attack and disparage our fellow Kenyans. The media is being used by politicians to openly incite acts of violence against fellow Kenyans in the guise of ‘freedom of the press’.

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. The 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.

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 and the media has not been in any way different. Their opinions on various issues 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 or praise of criminal violence and will use their might and vast media reach to castigate or silence other sources that expose this vice.

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.

Despite the temptations, 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.

As the society’s watchdog, media professionalism involves responsibility, which includes reporting with accuracy, fairness, without distortion of information and selection of truly important news for the people.

The more the media celebrates political indiscipline, the more they influence public misbehavior. If the media gives a blackout to politicians who spit nonsense, this would discourage the habit and eventually force them to speak what is good for the people.

Note, if Kenya burns, we will blame the media.

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