OF PRUDENCE AND PEACE
“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.