11 March 2013

Post-Election Thoughts (PET): Silence or Sensationalism?

I hope that everyone who is so busy bitching about 'foreign media' will apply the same scrutiny to local media - those are the outlets that Kenyans get the bulk of their news from. It wasn't the idiots at CNN organising the violence in the Rift Valley.

There was very little interrogation of the role of the local media in the violence in the last elections. Media houses did acknowledge that they may not have played things quite that well, but did they ever sit down to go through this in detail - and make the results public? Did any Kenyan non-media organisation analyse this? I’m sure the scrutiny is more intense for the large, English-language outlets, and less for the smaller, local language outlets.

So far, the only journalist I know of who has been taken to court was Mr Sang, but he was taken to the ICC, and the ICC is a meddling foreign instrument (never mind that the majority of Kenyan MPs, including Mr Ruto, I believe, voted not just once, but three times to take Kenya's PEV cases to the ICC).

Here is a very interesting and detailed investigative report on corruption in the Kenyan media sector, both affecting the coverage of corporate and business news and of political news. Not once has this document made any waves. Anyone who has issues with foreign media would do well to read this, too. If corruption has long been a problem in political coverage (and remember that many outlets are partly owned by politicians).

I think that stereotyping, sensationalist, simply wrong article about Kenya should be ridiculed, no doubt (and I've done plenty of that in my column and on my Facebook page). But just as much as Kenyans don't want to be referred to wholesale as tribal murderers for the 1,500 people who died in 2007/2008, it makes little sense to lump together all 'foreign media'. There are ignorant idiot pieces, and also a great many sober, insightful ones, and a lot of plain old reporting.

I find this vilification of all foreign media particularly worrying in the context of the self-censorship of the local media, the 'tyranny of peace', and the wider vilification of all things foreign. Yes, I understand: there was a huge (undoubted) need to call for sobriety and calm, and it was always going to be a delicate balance to get this right. But reporting, plain legitimate reporting, largely fell by the wayside. It’s perfectly fine not to broadcast politicians’ press conferences live – but it’s still necessary to pick up their claims.

Not publish them unquestioned, but to interrogate and attempt to verify them. When CORD claims that constituency tallies didn’t match, media must check this. If Jubilee claims that there is a British military invasion, a phone call to the Ministry of Defence about the longstanding UK/Kenya agreement on training facilities might have cleared things up.

In the past week, when international media did cover criticism of the tallying process, they were attacked as sensationalist and bloodthirsty. Effectively and ad hominem argument (what’s the word when you refer to organisations rather than people?), as it no longer addresses the substance of the argument, only the origin. So this has effectively become a narrative about outsiders, not about Kenya itself anymore.

CNN won’t make a difference to Kenyan lives. Nation and KTN coverage will.

Here's Muthoni Wanyeki on the (unnecessary) trade off between peace and truth.

And a great piece by a Kenyan blogger on the 'lobotomy of silence'.

Just two pieces showing that the 'tyranny of peace' did not go entirely unquestioned. Not all Kenyans agreed with this approach.

I was constantly on social media during the week after the elections, and Kenyans on Twitter are a notoriously lively bunch. So the local media can decide to silence themselves, but we've seen that the international media won't necessarily follow this approach. Similarly, social media are hard to silence. Kenyans love a good conspiracy theory, and for that reason, too, I think it's hugely important to have media who actually address and pick apart claims, factually so. What other way is there to offset the crazier rumours?


  1. It was a very delicate balance, not just for media but most on twitter and blogs. A lot of the stuff from 2007/8 is still online and are still as shocking today. There was no consequence then (except for Sang) and little sense of responsibility, but this time there are in both cases.

    We should not condemn the foreign media, as that it like crying wolf

  2. I have a few points to make or clarify on this issue.."There was very little interrogation of the role of the local media in the violence in the last elections.." Not true - the Media Council of Kenya held numerous workshops and was funded (yes by external donors) to produce guidelines on elections coverage 2013 which played a huge role in how the Kenyan media conducted themselves this time round. When I worked for BBC monitoring there were many reports based on the role of the media in the past elections that were distributed to radio monitoring staff. "It makes little sense to lump together all 'foreign media'. There are ignorant idiot pieces, and also a great many sober, insightful ones, and a lot of plain old reporting." Indeed - but there was a lot of showered on foreign journalists who KOT felt were doing a great job in balanced cover, not forgetting that a lot of 'foreign media' journalists are local and had an advantage over some of those who arrived on the day before the elections so even this can be scrutinized in detail. "CNN won’t make a difference to Kenyan lives. Nation and KTN coverage will." So many ways this statement could be challenged, from how investors feel when they see 'Kenya burning' to how Kenyans and Africans as a whole are perceived abroad (and we are players in a global economy, or aren't we?:) - and very few Kenyans particularly in the diaspora and the world in general will necessarily have access to KTN and Nation at the crucial elections time when they are focused on what is going on in the country.

  3. Your position and perspective are both clear, and you indeed shouldn't be lumped together with the ignorant. I don't know about the local media going into an absolute silence, but I was happy that they picked a cause and acted responsibly (it appeared) in support of that cause. I don't think they should entirely muzzle themselves and ignore issues that may arise but their combined action was commendable - and wasn't much different from what the Coalition of the Willing embedded press corps did during Iraq II.

  4. i really think your concern is great and is shared amongst us, lately africog have launched a site detailing what occurred in the election and tallying process, so the media have no guts to call a spade a spade, so they convince us its a spoon, we are a time BOMB n people are not happy, most will tell u move on.........we really need to ask ourselves, IS KENYA GOVERNED BY CRIMINALS or DO WE SUPPORT IMPUNITY or we just have have keep numb, stay calm n stay dumb us we bury our heads in the sand n say MOVE ONNNNN>>>.........