Media is affording our politics undue relevance

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By Daniel Benson Kaaya

“If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that members of the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly” – Thomas Sowell, American economist, social theorist, political philosopher, and author
No right-minded person can deemphasise the significance of the media in any society. It has underwritten various revolutions and liberations. Media has saved lives in many countries. Elsewhere, it has been a contrivance in endorsing propaganda and anti-social patterns. Malcom X, human rights activist, legendarily observed, “the media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power… Because they control the minds of the masses.”
This submits that media is both a powerful and creative organ that can shape anything to meet its motive, either genuine or pretentious. The general unanimity that we must arrive at is that media is powerful; controlling the minds of human beings by controlling their perceptions is the ultimate power. Likewise, if you control information, you control the people. Jim Morrison, songwriter and poet, observed that, “whoever controls the media, controls the mind”.

“With power comes responsibility”, goes the cliché. Media houses have the duty to genuinely inform their audience on issues that people ought to be in the knowledge of. However, in many instances, it has propagated divisive politics and also endorsed the constant effervescent political psyche. This piece seeks to discuss subjects that the media has given much emphasis, but which ought not to focused on ab initio.

Media houses have glided in their coverage. To save the public from political monomania, media should direct itself to cover development programmes. A lot of people in Kenya today do not know what Standard Gauge Railway is, the distance it covers, where it starts and stops, or which counties will enjoy the infrastructure. Do not be lulled into believing that the society is to blame for this paucity in knowledge. A large fraction of the population has access to news media; most people listen to and read news every day. It is all concreted in the stray of the media in covering political disputes and questions and other things that are not worth it!

This implores a discussion on news and newsworthiness. Pamela J. Shoemaker defines the term news as a primitive construct, one that requires no definition in ordinary conversation, because everyone knows what it is. A primitive construct is so integrated into our lives that we do not question its existence. When asked to define a primitive term, it is difficult to do so without using the term in the definition. In the hegemonic world of theoretical concepts, news is one of the most powerful, seen but not seen.

People may rail against news, they may disparage it, oppose or support it, but they never say, “let’s do away with news and the entire news industry.” It is not an unconceivable thought—I did just type it. But common sense tells us that the world will always need and include news. Even if there are no news media, news will be transmitted from person to person. News will always exist in some form. This acquiesces the power of news. Therefore, those who nurse us with news should clinically ensure that we get the precise diet of news! News that will positively shape the society but not ingeniously directs them to some political alliances.

Are political affairs newsworthy? Newsworthiness is determined by a number of factors. These include timing, significance, human interest, proximity, prominence, the number of people affected or involved, consequences, shock value, pathos (the fact that people like to hear about the misfortunes of others cannot be repudiated. Seeing or hearing about such things commonly elicits feelings of pity, distress, sympathy, and compassion), titillation component and possible future impacts. An analysis of these ripostes the question in the affirmative. Having acknowledged that political news is newsworthy, what then informs my apathy for political news?

Recently, there has been a monotonous refrain ad nauseam of the resignation and imminent defection of the Secretary-General of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Why the constant reporting and delving into this political development whereas there is plenty of news that concerns the society? Politicians should not be given half of the news time. These people are just selfish, egocentric human beings. This is a fact that the media knows but still cover their callous and conspiracy stories. I cognise coin is the factor. Adam Smith, a Scottish moral philosopher, pioneer of political economy, and a key figure in the Scottish enlightenment posited that “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner but from their regard to their own interest… people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

The preceding statement recapitulates that politicians are people of same trade, notwithstanding their inclinations; at all times they machinate to satisfy their egos, and conspire against the public. To concretise this assertion, remember the State House dinner the “antagonists” had? It seemed they ultimately arbitrated their issues. The subsequent day they were all in the frontiers. This suggests that whatever they discussed, if any, was not for the public interest at all! When they go howling and spritzing hatred in their rallies, is it for the interest of the public or fundamentally their own? One way of curbing this political uneasiness in the country is by reducing political airtime and focus on substances that are socially productive and value adding.

Some media firms have started programmes exclusively aiming 2017 elections – discussing who will and not win the elections and why! The rationale for starting these programs may be sound, in that they’re projecting or rather giving a glimpse of the future. However, its timing is not plausible. It is over a year to the general elections! Additionally, party primaries have not been done yet. This pre-empts the intentions of the parties and ominously creates hostile relationships between aspiring party members.

Stick to informing

It also contributes to the abhorrent political psyche and temperatures. Considering the cindery political antagonism and the ethnical ground it is based on, these programmes create a combustible political climate. The fabric that holds Kenyans is very delicate and loose, and the foresaid psyche is very detrimental to the unity, loose as it may be. The programme is therefore intended to put Kenyans in perpetual inimical political disposition. The slightest provocation will spark ominous upshots! This does not augur well with the future that we all desire to realise.

The society is uninterested on who will be the next governor or senator. The general unanimity is that most people would want to see programmes that picture what the current office occupants are doing in furtherance of development and Vision 2030. Does it mean that there are no developmental aspects of the society that is worthy of their airtime?

Alternatively, the media should focus more on agriculture given that it is the backbone of the economy. Or the education centre, primarily on their research. It should be noted that the most venerated asset or resource that Kenya possesses is the intellect of her students not wildlife! A special focus on their research will market the country and enflame the embers of innovation that this country has.

Therefore, media should bring the developmental and political homeostasis in the society. It should stick to its fundamental objective—to inform the people not spritzing political propaganda. Otherwise, the people should sagaciously select their news sources with restraint and a lot of pussyfooting.

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