Time for media and government to stop playing 'cat-and-mouse' game

To a large extent, American TV cartoon series, Tom and Jerry, best describes the relationship between the media and government in Kenya.

The cartoon, created by Americans William Hannah and Joseph Barbera, features Jerry - a clever mouse's endless endeavours to outwit his nemesis, Tom, the cat.

But this is as far as this comparison goes.

On TV, Tom and Jerry sometimes call a ceasefire, agree to disagree and put aside their differences to tackle a common enemy. This is rare in the cat-and-mouse game that Kenya's media and government play.

Yet the two sides are, like the good book says, like the branch and the tree-just as the branch cannot bear fruits without the tree, nor the tree bear fruits without the branch, the government and the media cannot thrive without each other.

The government is a major source of news, especially so in countries like Kenya that eschews the freedom of information. This, for a very simple reason - a vast majority of newsmakers are policymakers and policy drivers within government.

The government, on the other hand, depends on the media to keep in touch with its citizens. No matter how good in its operations, a government that imagines it can operate without a vibrant media is like a beauty pageant winking in the dark.

In the same breath, a media that hides behind 'self-regulation' to cover up for its irresponsibility and biases is like Adam struggling to cover his nakedness with a twig after being caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

The link between a free media and economic development - either directly or indirectly is there for every Tom and Jerry to see. Ask the United Arab Emirates- by setting up media free zone, the tiny Kingdom reaped Dh1.5 billion (Sh55 trillion) in 2016.

Still, in their immense power, both the media and the government can, and do sometimes cross the red line, especially so whenever power gets to their heads.

On both sides, the enormous power that they wield must go hand in hand with responsibility. Because, like they say, freedom without responsibility is the prerogative of a prostitute.

Both sides must therefore be open to criticism-nay, both must encourage fair and honest criticism.

Instead of dismissing every criticism from the media as fake news, the government ought to acknowledge it as invaluable feedback.

On the other hand, in a democratic society where the rule of the people, by the people, for the people reigns supreme, the media too must learn to listen to the people. Instead of playing saint and hiding behind the thin, see-through veil of self-regulation every time its biases are exposed, the media ought to use criticism as feedback to seal all loopholes that threaten its credibility.

Both the government and the media must be each other's keeper. Being the society's mirror, an unprofessional media can be confusing and frustrating for any government. In the same breath, a government that demonstrates disdain for free media demonstrates disdain for its own people.

By creating safe spaces for media operations, the government will find in the media a dependable diplomat. In the same breath, by proving itself a true, unbiased and responsible player, the media secures a place for itself in the overall economic, social and political development of a nation.

Whenever both sides differ, there must be a trustworthy mediator to help safeguard the sense of trust that citizens have in the media and the government.

Mr Karanja works with the Media Council of Kenya