Wednesday, 23 October 2013

State of the Media in Kenya: Has the Kenyan Media Become Complacent?

The Kenyan media have become complacent and are failing to play its watchdog role. Nowadays they don’t focus with zeal on government misdeeds. They are ‘wasting’ the considerable Press freedom that has been accorded to them.

The media remains one of the most powerful entities in any given country. Their power lies in the ability to greatly influence public opinion towards a given issue or subject through use of mass media. They play a watchdog role; exposing corruption, poor governance and all sorts of malpractices or societal ills. Basically, while they pursue their business interests, they should also act on the concern of the public. In some countries, however, their power has been greatly curtailed by dictators who crush to ash any media that is criticizes the government.
The Kenyan media has come a long way, survived the dark ages and are now enjoying considerable freedom as espoused in the constitution. They are among the lucky few who enjoy the elusive virtue in the African continent ranked at 14th position in Africa and 71 in the world by Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index 2013. However, in the recent times, the Kenyan media seem to have lost their quest in fighting for public good; pro bono. They have relaxed and are contented with the profits they make from the business.
The period 2003-2007 saw the media keep the government in check and quite often, we could hear reports on schemes in government to empty the public coffers ranging from Triton Scandal to Anglo-Leasing Scandal. The media exposed the greedy politicians who fleeced the publics the hard earned tax. In 2007 general elections, they helped expose wide election malpractices which unfortunately did end up in violence that saw slightly over 1000 people lose their lives. The media did not escape the blame despite the fact they that they played their role as watchdog and information disseminators.
This was the turning point for the Kenyan media. The media become passive in their watchdog role which was further complicated by a raft of legislations that sought to clip their muscle. One of the notable legislation was the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008.Also known as the “ICT Bill”, the new legislation provides for heavy fines and prison sentences for press offences. It also gives the government, above all the information and interior ministries, authority over the issuing of broadcast licences and the production and content of news programmes. The resistance to the law was unsuccessful as the government of the day remained adamant and the then President H.E Mwai Kibaki signed it into law. The media has been advocating for self-regulation while the government wants direct control.
Perhaps the biggest let down by the media was during the 2013 general elections. They failed to scrutinize the election process which had grave electoral malpractices. They, instead, chose to turn a blind eye to the evil taking place during the election period. The public had nowhere to express their opinion since the only savior had become complacent. All they did was to gag the public with multiple peace messages yet they failed to focus on the real issues that could have resulted to peace destabilization. It did not occur to them that justice begets peace and that absence of war does not translate to peace. People were merely pretending and trying to tolerate each other in the wake of divergent opinion on how the elections were conducted.
 After the elections, the media went ahead to tell the public to accept the results as they are and move on. This was the worst part of their complacency. They never cared about the issues raised by the now opposition party that were critical and warranted attention. Meanwhile, the social media was the new battle ground as supporters of the two coalitions exchanged harsh words maligned with lots of bile yet the media was happy that they have successfully maintained peace. This is far from the truth and the truth is that the latent hate still exists and as a matter of fact we are actually sitting on a time bomb that will explode in the future if the issues of equality and justice are not fully redressed.
Back to the media focus, we have been able to witness a number of issues that has besieged the new government for instance, the biased public appointments, security lapse, and corruption among others. The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) scandal that saw wastage of public money was not number one news item but was 6th news item in one of the local TV stations. Can one relate the current cold blow by the media to the breakfast meeting they had with the government?