Friday, March 15, 2013

Wrong is wrong

“You're miserable, edgy and tired. You're in the perfect mood for journalism.”
― Warren Ellis

Welcome to the world that constantly reminds me of an article I read titled “the More we saw, the less we knew.” It was about the coverage of the Gulf war and the role that the media played in it, the arguments around that article were about the balancing act the media plays in reporting issues that are of National interest.

I just read Michela Wrong’s piece on Kenyan media and the 2013 presidential polls, and in it, got caught up in the emotions I perhaps shouldn't have as a journalist. I read it as a Kenyan, an angry one at that. I read a story of what seemed like bored foreign journalist caught up in the unexciting and anti climax news, with little or no war to report on. what blatantly stood out for me is that in the international space, only foreigners stand out as African experts. yet, we wonder why Africa is perceived as it is today.

Ms. Wrong’s article reminded me of this TED Talk by the BBC’s Komla Dumor on how to (or not) report about Africa.

The 2013 presidential elections were marked by heavy presence of international media, who were perhaps gearing for great TV like the blood bath that marked 2007 polls. Foreign press came in droves, I remember that because we had one of our journalists covering the airport and the sheer numbers of world press was astonishing. No one wanted to miss the heady shots because that's what award winning pieces are made of.

Allow me to remind foreign press that Kenya has had elections every 5 years since 1963. Some were peaceful, as young country with little exposure to opposition and a jittery democracy.Some had violence, brought about by land issues among Kalenjins and Kikuyu's, with other troubles in the Tana River area and parts of the larger Coast province. Not to say that the scale of these chaos made it ok.

You will remember Michela Wrong from her book; “It is our time to eat,” based on whistle blower John Githongo’s expose about the Anglo leasing scandal, and I must say she is an incredibly gifted writer. I wrote this article about John Githongo’s return way back then, and I still stand by it. I digress.

I would also like to remind her, along with other foreign journalists in Africa, that being a reporter in Africa does not make you an expert in African matters.
However, we as Africans have not moulded ourselves to be 'experts on Africa'. That is our fault.

Seeking 'African Experts'? All you need to do is Google Michela and a number of international correspondents in Africa and see how many interviews they get from across the world based on their reportage in Africa.
Then flip the coin and look at how many African journalists are interviewed by foreign press on the same.

In many ways, after reading this article by Ms. Wrong, I relate her to the Somali, Kenyan or Ethiopian villager rebranding as an expert about the U.S fiscal cliff. Pardon my sarcasm, it is laced with anger.

True, perhaps parts of the Kenyan media may not have covered the elections partially and with credibility, but because I have worked with a number of media houses, I know for a fact that the majority of the media houses still subscribe to Journalistic ethics.

To insinuate that Kenyan media is corrupt is a blanket statement and a new low, even for Michela. It would be interesting to know her take on which media house favoured which candidate and how they did it. In fact, for many, the coverage was alright until there was an election petition. Then media favour then was allegedly torn between the warring factions.

I would like to her to tell us if there were journalists that had evidence of election malpractice whose news reports were dropped from the news.

Brown envelopes exchanged or not; Today’s Kenyan newsroom and that brown envelope have changed quite a bit.
Here’s an expert from Mars group about the role of the media in 2007, 2008 PEV. Perhaps it will create the argument that backed the “gentleman’s agreement’ you talk about in 2013.

“We are seeing a situation where politicians create a problem, politicians promote violence, politicians incite the people and then when things do not go their way they start to blame the media. That ban as we all know was unconstitutional, it was illegal; the Editor’s Guild joined up with the Media Institute and went to court and just before the hearing the Attorney General, the government, revoked the ban and we went back to live broadcasting and what was not acknowledged during that period is the role, very positive role the media played in calming tensions.”

When you see hundreds of thousands of Kenyans taking to the polls as a personal priority even after the hell that broke loose In 2007, there is something bubbling underneath the citizens' social strata that ropes in responsible journalism, which in your article, you refer to as “partial.”

And the many Journalists I know want to have a peaceful country, and report as truthfully as they can. They live in a country that bore the brunt of an election gone mad. This was a delicate balancing act for any reporter across the country. A personal battle of responsible reporting, perhaps a topic that needs another blog.

Kenyan Journalists are as human as their American colleagues, I want to remind you of how American journalists and TV stations took a stand now to show dead American soldiers in Iraq.

This is a quote by CNN's Christiane Amanpour on how American Media covered the Iraq war "I think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled. I'm sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did."

This is when Journalism 101 comes face to face with the stress test.

In essence, the "Gentleman’s agreement" was a weighing scale that measured the peace and economic future of an entire country vis-a-vis the telling of anxiety that couldn’t really be filmed, as really, nothing had happened yet. self censorship, perhaps.

Mombasa’s incident of possible MRC involvement in the Killing of police officers and a few others was a disturbing case, but when a country is teetering over the edge, the rope that's balancing act is pulled tighter.

Kenyan journalists did not lie to Kenyans. They decided not have 'live' heated political press conferences as the tallies were going on, does that make it to the books of bad journalism? I think not. Media houses had to be careful not to fan the fire.

And No, Ms. Wrong, Foreign Journalists were not threatened with deportation:

Here is part of the statement the Government issued as a warning to foreign journalists. If you see something “wrong” (pun intended) with people working illegally in the country, then you need law 101 as well.

“Nairobi — The Ministry of Information and Communication has warned foreign journalists who are working illegally in the country that they risk deportation.”

By all means, Ms. Wrong; as G.K. Chesterton said, “Journalism largely consists in saying "Lord Jones is dead" to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.”

Get of your high horse, Africa can speak for itself.

Note to ( African) Africa experts:
Go big or go home. You are the reason why the world thinks Africa is a bony, sickly child holding out a bowl for relief food.


  1. Terry great minds think alike. Have you seen my post?

  2. Way to go Terryanne - mafeelings nazo.
    Ebu tell Ms. Wrong there is no such country as Africa

  3. Mmh very factual! Nonetheless Kenyan media dropped its watchdog role, went into a conspiracy of silence and let social media to take over. Mainstream media has a way of balancing coverage and reporting which social media cannot and as such am wondering why Kenyan media houses had to go into this conspiracy of silence consequently losing their credibility to the online rumour mills. Tell me if this is far fetched...

  4. IHT/NYT should run this piece to balance the argument by Wrong that appeared in the paper.

  5. TerryAnne, great peace. The media though failed to as Isaack Hassan questions...the questions that they're beginning to ask now 12 days after the election when half the country thinks they won and the other half thinks they were robbed. All the major media houses had correspondents in almost every one of the 290 constituencies...they know what went down. Why is it only coming out now? I understand the need for caution not to inflame passions as happened in 2007, but to the point of the media gagging itself?

  6. Thanks for your commets, Wairigia, that link doesn't open well, will go directly to your blog post. Yes, I caught feelings, because I am bored and tired of that Western Narrative about Africa that's often tingled with patronising statements. Michela Wrong is a distinguished author and journalist, but that doesn't mean she has a balanced view about Africa. I hope that more and more Africans can write and author best sellers that will re shape the world's perception of a continet that is on the cusp of change.

  7. Sometimes its just gentle to accept criticism, What Wrong said were facts unless you want to twist them. Why did the press get compliments from only two sides and was it really worth?, why didn't the media highlight this failures that are being written all over?


    Macharia Franjes Gaitho: I was aghast like everyone else that journalists at Boma's kept mum when there were burning questions. But I have gone on record on these very forums wondering why journalists of these days are so mute when covering press conferences and news events ... and at that time no elections were involved. So the issue of a grand conspiracy does not hold. Now, truth is relative depending on where you stand. Here we have the Jubilee 'truth' and the Cord 'truth' I would challenge the partisan political activists and self-righteous civil society professionals accusing Kenyan media of concealing the truth about the election to broadcast the truth they claim to have. They have the entire World Wide Web in which to do so, and they also have great opportunity to help the Supreme Court reach the right decisions come the petitions. As for Michella Wrong, she is just plain wrong. She is captive to a few civil society actors whose every word she swallows. She came here like other western media vultures dying to cover bloody polls, and now has to lash out that she was deprived of gore and savagery in yet another part of the dark continent.
    Thursday at 7:27pm · Like · 3

  9. I think Michaela Wrong is a very good author who has written some very good political books about Africa - and will continue to be consulted for reference about Africa as long as no well researched books are written by Africans about political Africa like hers.

    I don't think she has a bias against Kenya or Kenyan media who went in to the 2007 elections on the backdrop of the peaceful, uneventful, 2002 elections and where in 2007, every incident, that differed from 2002, was considered news.

    But in 2013 the media was smarter and more enlightened. e.g. At international sports events like the super bowl there are occasional interruptions where nude (or clothed) fans rush on to the pitch to create their own spectacle. There was a time when they would be a highlight, but today they are given a blackout (cameras focus elsewhere) while they are dealt with (tackled & arrested) off camera.

    Similarly, in Kenya, (as a somewhat observer of the) 2013 elections, there were incidents recorded (slow voting, various IEBC equipment & systems not working, officers arrested for interfering with tallies), and broadcast by the Kenyan media, but they were not highlighted to a point that they became a story – and thus did not encourage repeats of similar incidents, that they became a story.

    So in this story I don't believe Michaela was wrong about Kenyan media, nor do I feel she should be vilified for her views about Kenyan media

  10. Thank you Terry for speaking out loud what all Africans are afraid to speak

  11. Having been at Bomas, I saw the press largely ignore concerns by all political parties and focus on what Isaak was saying. At that point political parties felt gagged and as such there is fact behind the article. Political party agents, for example, were kicked out rather unceremoniously from the presidential tally centre. Did the media cover this story? No they didn't but Al Jezeera did! I am patriotic to the core but the media unwittingly towed the line of certain political candidates in the name of peace. Just to make a final point I will refer you to Friday night after the elections when it was announced the call would be made at 11 when it was made at about 3am. This is conditioning and the media played right into it.

  12. ohhh wow, Terryanne you are entitled to your opinion and for the record i loved your piece, however i disagree with how you have portrayed Michaela on her her writting about the just concluded elections. You did not need to vilify her for her views about the Kenya media and equating her or any other foreign journalist to goatherder thats just a no go Zone. Anyway try and maintain professionalism in your writing and lets not get personal. For the record i also think Michaela is a very good author with incredible books about politics in Africa and is a good reference point,she does not neccessarily speak for Africa but brings out a different perspective about issues affecting the continent- a challenge to you now is to try and research more and gain more experience and insights affecting Africa maybe then we can unanimously say that we do have more 'Africans'writing about Africa and specific African countries and their successes and challenges.

  13. I guess K24 money has finally made its way to the account. Kudos.

  14. Terryanne,
    Interesting and very well written piece. I however think that this defensiveness is unnecessary …

  15. I am personally fed up of Ms Wrong's wrong (pun intended) articles on Africa.

    She is the 'expert' yet she writes from the chilly flats of London. She should look for something more exciting. Clearly Kenya in the 2013 polls did not give her any fodder. You can read the frustration in her articles.

  16. I long lost hope on terryanne chebet.why defend what everyone saw?after reading your arguments on icc and this one,it is unfortunate that such a mainstream journalist cannot hide her political inclination.
    but then again knowing your employer i rest my case.

  17. Personally I think Wrong is absolutely RIGHT on her writing. She just wrote what few...and I mean very few Kenyans journalists will dare write. THE TRUTH Without BIAS. Same journalists reported on the Githongo Skunk, but none was more factual and well researched than her book. Most journalists reported Saitoti's plane crush and subsequent inquiry-did you watch Jicho Pevu? Now that's a public watchdog? Sad for me to say this but Kenyan journo's have succumbed to a new low-reporting without questioning,airing without ascertaining,not bothering to cross check facts/statements/figures as presented to them. I caught a seasoned Op/Ed writer saying it was their responsibility not to fan the flames-all comments below his writing advised him to quit the newsroom and become a fireman. Everyone has their job.Am sorry but public perception is not in their favor currently. Newspaper sales are at an all time low, viewership/listener ship has also dipped. Chebet won't tell you that for sure. The SC audit caught glaring anomalies and no journo caught it during elections *laughable? Come on-we're not all that dumb? It was clear a conspiracy of silence existed. Truth is if you lie with the dogs, expect to rise with flees on you. I wish Kenyan journos well in the next five years.