The Kenyan media must change their attitude toward the government, and the government must seek ways of looking at the media differently. This can only happen if the media and the government heal from the 2022 election outcome, especially the presidential election.
As far as the political heavens are concerned, none of them is free, none has moved on. The media have not accepted the 2022 election results while the government is still harbouring the pre-election coverage’s pains. They are clothed in vengeance against the Fourth Estate. How long can this vendetta last?
In the introduction to ‘How democracies die,’ Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt aver that elected leaders are the modern enemies of democracy. According ti Levitsky and Ziblatt, these leaders “subvert democracy” by “buying off media and the private sector, or bullying them into silence, and rewriting the rules of politics to tilt the playing field against opponents.”
While the first of Levitsky and Ziblatt’s approaches is non-violent, the second is ferocious and exactly what the Kenya Kwanza government is doing. Since our greenhorn democracy will lean to either of the two options, why can’t the government bury the hatchet with the media? Don’t they need one another? Or is my approach politically radical?
Consider a similar scenario not long ago. In the run-up to the 2022 elections, and even shortly after, Azimio la Umoja was becoming a crybaby. It's leaders lamented that William Ruto was buying off ‘their’ members, weakening the opposition, making UDA stronger. In this column, we asked: If Kenya Kwanza is buying off opposition politicians, and it helps, why wouldn’t Azimio pay them to stay? Was Azimio incapable of making political transactions?
Fast-forward to 2023, the Ruto government is complaining that the media is being used against them and their good deeds. If that is the case, is Kenya Kwanza government incapable of employing Levitsky and Ziblatt’s first non-aggressive strategy? Why can’t they buy off the media; make sure they are on their side? Call this an extremist opinion, but shouldn’t it open our eyes to reality?
Before you further assassinate my way of thinking, we all know that the rain started beating us from the way the media handled the 2022 presidential elections. The media, truth be said, saw Dr Ruto and his camp as deserving of ‘political peer review’. Unfortunately, the unexpected happened. UDA won the elections. Some media and journalists found themselves in the mythical ‘smoke-filled rooms’ from where they committed to playing ‘political gatekeeping’. The 2022 elections were a site for the Fourth Estate to learn hard lessons.
Never again should the media accept to be used, subtly or in visible ways, to play partisan politics. Therefore, like other Kenyans, they must move on and create an environment conducive for society to benefit from their watchdog role.
We tried to raise the alarm against the reporting bias. Most media were inebriated and wanted to be on the side of the powerful. It is in the public domain that the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) warned the media against imbalances. The MCK also called on the media to be cognisant of the bias complaints, especially from the UDA side. Isn’t it time for the media to eat their humble pie?
On the other hand, the government must accept that they are now in power. Forget Moses Kuria, DP Rigathi Gachagua scorns the media every week, lamenting that they are biased against Kenya Kwanza. Kenyans did not elect this government to wage war on persons and institutions perceived to have been against them.
Threats won’t help! The government can shut down media houses, intimidate them, deny them advertising, coerce and silence them. But then what? What will be the outcome of such moves? Naught! The Fourth Estate will endure.
My conclusion is simple: It requires less energy and resources to have the media on the government’s bosom than to keep warding them off. For the media, it is costly to kick against the goads, bury the hatchet and move on to your next assignment.
-Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer, School of Music and Media at Kabarak University
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter