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Blame your government that’s oppressing you, not the media

By Clay Muganda | June 21st 2020

Breakfast. Some dieticians have said it is the most important meal of the day as it jumpstarts one’s metabolism. Be that as it may, for Kenyan journalists, some breakfast they had seven years ago only gave them indigestion from which they are yet to recover.

In July 2013, a battery of journalists honoured an invite from the president and excitedly trooped to State House for breakfast. This single meal has become fodder for their critics and detractors, their audience, who call them all sorts of names unnecessarily.

Fed into silence

Whenever they feel that the media are not right, that breakfast meeting becomes a weapon laced with allusions that the media were bribed, bought or fed into silence. It is tiring and boring.

The media cannot make a move without being followed by an array of vitriolic taunts, invectives, unsavoury epithets and snide remarks. More often than not, it is due to a lack of understanding on the part of the attackers. Attacking and blaming the media for all of Kenya’s problems is not news. This is history. Only that nowadays it is amplified by technology which, thanks to low-priced internet bundles, can be accessed by everyone who works their fingers more than they work their most important body organ.

This new-age rage against journalists has been fuelled by their 2013 breakfast host with the most, who, having realised that the Fourth Branch was flailing and his pie-in-the-sky projects were not taking off, started pointing fingers at the Fourth Estate for outing his failings.

Consequently, several draconian measures have been instituted to muzzle, frustrate and even kill the media, an important institution in the life of a young nation such as Kenya. The measures have eroded the gains the media had made, many of which were helpful in governance and delivery of services.

Some of these strictures are akin to economic sabotage, which is not only criminal, but negates the government’s own policy of fostering economic growth and improving lives and livelihoods. The government’s duty is never to impoverish the citizenry and businesses. Its solemn duty is to create a conducive environment for them to thrive. Of course, the media landscape has changed and mainstream media houses almost everywhere are not thriving as much as they should. However, in Kenya, the consumption of mainstream media products had not reached a plateau and the environment could still sustain the growth of mainstream and social media outlets, albeit at a slower pace. Poor governance, resulting in a tanking economy and bad faith, have contributed to the fall in mainstream media’s fortunes.

Which progressive government starves the media of advertisement revenue and by extension promotes job losses? Which well-meaning government imposes taxes on periodic publications in a country that lacks notable newsprint manufacturers from whom media houses can buy Kenyan, build Kenya and subsequently reduce production costs, maintain their workforce and absorb others rolling off learning institutions like two-minute noodles off a spaghetti maker?

Every story has more than one player and some of these moves by the government could have been stopped by strong media-related bodies.

Media blackout

In countries with vibrant media and related bodies, tinkering with prices of newsprint, or of the final product through bad taxes, is against the law as it is considered an affront to media freedom, and politicians cannot suggest media-related laws without consultations unless they are ready for media blackout.

Kenya has many media-related bodies, but what is their input in policymaking and how well do they lobby politicians? The media have contributed tremendously to Kenya’s democratisation process and to many of its successes. If journalists, backed by their employers were not insistent and resilient in the frontlines and in the trenches, literally, many of the freedoms – including insulting journalists – we enjoy today, could not have materialised. There is so much more that the local media can, and should do just like the international media houses that we say local media should emulate – the ones we say we prefer because local media offer nothing.

This is a very sound argument and I trust those who use it to attack local media live in a Kenyan economy where, for instance, they pay their domestic workers upwards of $10 per hour, and their whole clans do not share just one Netflix account.

Every step the media make in the content-creation process costs money and you cannot be shouting that you want better content and in the same breath swear that you can’t spend money on local media products. Oh dear, you are an economic terrorist just like the government which you complain keeps showing you things.

There are so many projects that the media can undertake or execute well, but economic policies and the economy are not supportive because of bad governance.

Bad choices made at the ballot not only affect the media but other businesses and the people who are increasingly falling into desperate times because of State-sponsored corruption, which the media keep uncovering and highlighting every so often. So, whenever your fingers are itching, and you want to type insults directed at individual journalists and local media in general, remember that we are all victims of a poor economy. 

Thanks for reading

- The writer is an editor at The Standard

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