You must have, at one time or another, blamed the (Kenyan) media or, at least, heard people blame it for all manner of sins. That is not a proposition one wants to argue with: because it is entirely true.
Life, as it were, is such that people must have something to talk about. If it—what to talk about—is not there, it must be created. That’s why at any given time you will find people engrossed in some kind of chatter. Irrespective of the formality of a place or familiarity between people (or lack of), human beings will talk. But to talk is not a bad thing per se. Speech is the very innate quintessence of human specialty which differentiates us from (other) animals.
However, there is something called cheap talk which makes this human-only-gift the world most dreadful curse. The careless manner in which many a layman condemns the media is an example of cheap talk. Make no mistake, the media belong to the publics. Which means their—the media’s—primary purpose is to serve the masses.
Naturally, thus, the masses are justified whenever they critique or even criticize the media. Media ethics, which is the fulcrum of Journalism Practice the world over, revolve around media practitioners being above board. This being above board is what people often refer to as objectivity. When it’s lacking, the masses have a right to ask why.
But the masses are—in terms of interest—quite diverse. In the sea of humanity that form the Kenyan citizenry, are politicians, the clergy, journalists, teachers, business people, doctors, engineers, economists, the working class, media owners, the government et cetera. These groups of people have, on the one hand, shared interests common to all human beings and, on the other, specific ones. The latter are what complicate the matrices.
When you have a diverse population of people, each with multiple interests in a natural habitat called the Kenyan nation-state, that age long Law of the Jungle, “survival of the fittest” applies. In each profession or economic engagement, there are different interests. So that the interests of the politician might not be similar to those of the media owner; and those of the journalist not necessarily the business man’s. For one to survive, therefore, they must just be fit and remain so so as to avoid being obliterated. Nothing served on a silver platter. The media are serving the interest of the people they must serve.
Which is why the argument by some people that today’s media is biased and, or unethical compared to the olden day media is void.
There was nothing extraordinarily revolutionary in the yester year’s press. If anything, the totalitarian regimes of post independence Kenya could permit none of it. The Press was but the King’s mouthpiece, strictly disseminating what was music to the ears of the Master, no matter how devoid of newsworthiness it was —and referring to it as news.
That is not to disesteem the Kenyan pioneer journalists. No. The likes of Philip Ochieng, Charles Owuor (late), Agao Patrobas, Swaleh Athuman Mumina aka “Uncle Swaleh” (late) and Leonard Mambo Mbotela (it was Swaleh and Mbotela who announced the Ochuka-led 1982 attempted coup) —to mention a few—have their place. But, overall, the press today is more vibrant, more ethical, more interactive and more professional than ever.
Across the divide, people are making use of public space to lecture the press on what they should and not do. Worse is that some of the naysayers—those who claim to know the journalist’s work better than the journalist himself—are individuals who know zilch in their own tools of trade. Even peons take on journos who are highly qualified and professional with wanton disrespect.
It cannot be that any Joe Average understands the work of the pressman. No. Writers of hollow, vitriol-laden commentaries who assume a higher authority are but victims of sour-grapes. They are people who are angry that someone somewhere has what it takes to attract the attention of the media while they do, and can, not.
When you read the Miguna Migunas of this country bark uncontrollably at the media, it is because the Sonkos and Kideros have numbed their political gimmicks. When you hear NASA henchmen accuse the press, it is because there is something their rival—Jubilee—has done better. When Jubilee spanner boys throw tantrums all over at the hallowed Fourth Estate, it is because the NASA brigade attracted a mammoth crowd in some part of Kenya and they are not happy with it.
Examples are without number but always driven by one emotion: sour grapes. The media suffices only as the scapegoat.