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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Media Bill Is Not The Only Problem

The manner in which the Kenyan media continues to devote virtually all it’s coverage to politics and politicians is getting out of hand, and spells the doom of real growth in Kenya. The latest irritating example is a half-page article by Assistant Minister of Information Koigi wa Wamwere, appearing on page 29 of the Sunday Nation of 5th August 2007.

It beats logic why the print and broadcast media in Kenya insists on pursuing this deplorable policy. The signal it sends is that the media in Kenya caters primarily for politics and politicians, and so the rest of Kenya should look elsewhere for representation.

Koigi wa Wamwere for instance, has become an irritant and an eyesore, despite his distinguished standing as one of the very few individuals who dared challenge both President Kenyatta and President Moi. Koigi wa Wamwere regularly features on virtually all radio stations, television stations and newspapers, including the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), the Royal Media Group, Kiss 100, Classic 105.2, the Nation Media Group, Baraza Limited, Kenya Times Media Trust (KTMT), the People Daily and even Swahili broadcasts of the BBC World Service on 93.7 FM Nairobi, 93.9 FM Mombasa and 88.2 FM Kisumu. As an Assistant Minister for Information, Koigi wa Wamwere also wields considerable influence over the state owned and managed Kenya News Agency (KNA), which has bureaus in virtually all corners of this country. As the Member of Parliament for Subukia, Koigi wa Wamwere also has the ultimate platform of Parliament. Following not too far behind in Koigi’s example, are other equally prominent politicians such as Raila Odinga, Mutula Kilonzo, Peter Anyang Nyongo and Assistant Minister of Education, Kilemi Mwiria. The absurdity does not end there. Not too long ago, the Standard newspaper ran a half page article by Cuban President Fidel Castro.

It is hard to tell what this was meant to achieve. Was it meant to please the Cuban consulate in Kenya at the expense of more pressing matters afflicting the people of Kenya? Why not daily fill all our local newspapers with articles by presidents and premiers from all over the world?

The media in Kenya is also currently devoting a lot of coverage to the just passed Media Bill and it’s possible repercussions, but Kenyan media clearly has much more to worry about. The media in Kenya is alienated from the people of Kenya, and vice versa.

This is why there have been no street protests or mass action, following the passage of the Media Bill. This is why there were no spontaneous street protests of the kind regularly seen abroad, after the Government backed raid on the Standard offices in March 2006. No one really cares because the media is quite correctly perceived as a tool for the elite in Kenya.

On June 16th 2002, Senegal beat Sweden to qualify for the quarter-finals of the 2002 Soccer World Cup. The spontaneous outpouring of emotion across Kenya was unprecedented, with people coming out onto streets and markets across Kenya chanting "Senegal", as they waved twigs and Kenyan flags. Why was this same level of spontaneous outpouring in support of Kenyan media lacking, when the Media bill was passed?

Politicking in Kenya has lost meaning, direction and substance and the media has contributed immensely to this unfortunate state of affairs. From day one of NARC’s leadership almost five years ago, it has been squabbles regarding all manner of issues ranging from a “Memorandum of Understanding” previously unknown to the general public, to the amendment and/or review of the constitution. In real terms, this country has lost five years and looks set to lose another five, because matters clearly look set to continue on the same footing regardless of who wins the December 2007 polls. High flyers from civil society, the private sector, the civil service, academia, the Kenya community abroad and even the media itself, are decamping from their current occupations to contest parliamentary seats at the December 2007 polls, with no clear agenda or roadmap on how to address the vast problems facing this country. It is clearly all about self-interest, yet the media in Kenya still insists on giving prominent coverage to both politicians and aspiring politicians. It is just over four months to the December 2007 polls yet there is no election mood to speak of. People are fatigued, hungry, angry and depressed, and unlike Koigi wa Wamwere et al, they do not have the Kenya News Agency (KNA) and other media arms at their disposal. As this goes on, the general situation across the country worsens. An attempt on the life of Assistant Minister John Serut has just been made by the self-styled Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF). This act of aggression clearly demonstrates that the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) is prepared to go all the way in pursuit of whatever agenda they purport to have. It also brings back memories of 1978, when the “Red Brigades” kidnapped and murdered former Italian Premier Aldo Moro.

The media in Kenya is quite clearly pursuing a limited agenda that will eventually result in widespread tragedy. This explains for instance, why two reporters at the highly respected “Washington Post”, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, were able to force the resignation of President Richard Nixon in the United States in 1974 following the Watergate scandal, yet the Kenyan media continues to take the public round and round in circles on matters such as Kenya’s shameful Anglo Leasing scandal. Even when former Ethics and Governance Permanent Secretary John Githongo, posted damaging documents related to the Anglo Leasing scandal on the internet on Kenyan blogs, websites and discussion groups, there was no panicky move by the
Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), to block access, as has lately been witnessed by CCK equivalents in Egypt, China and Russia. Two points emerge out of this. The first is that of an apparent mutually beneficial relationship between the Kenya Government and Kenyan politicians on the one hand, and local Kenyan media on the other. It explains why the highly respected London based publication “The Economist”, has just run a damaging article on Kenya as a potential failed state, as local media continues to recycle doubtful material on vastly improved and improving prospects for this country.

The second point is that the Government is aware that most Kenyans who browse the internet, visit mainly pornographic websites and/or other websites such as Myspace, Hi5, Youtube, Yahoo and Google, and there therefore exists no real threat if documents damaging to the Government’s reputation are posted on the internet.

The loser in all of this however, tragically continues to be the common man, he and she that Koigi wa Wamwere purports to represent in his “Chama cha Mwananchi” (The Peoples’ Party). The Government, Politicians and the Media, are clearly not addressing the needs of the common man in Kenya. Who is…?


Guest post by Michael Mundia Kamau
P.O. Box 58972
00200 City Square
Nairobi
Kenya


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