‘Responsible’ and ‘objective’ in press is key

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A Kenyan journalist participates in a protest with a tape over his mouth and a pen on his forehead along the streets of the capital Nairobi, December 3, 2013. Members of the Kenyan media marched in a peaceful protest to denounce the new draconian laws tabled by parliament. Kenya's president vetoed a bill that would have imposed fines and restrictions on journalists, saying it was unconstitutional, the first time he has used his power to reject legislation. Critics say rules laid down in the bill would curb investigative reports on corruption that plagues Kenyan public life and some media groups threatened to go to court to block it. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya (KENYA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS MEDIA)
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BY Oscar Okwaro

This year must be the most challenging for those thoughtful consumers of our media, which has often desperately sought to paint the impression that they are free and independent, capable of balanced equilibrated coverage and objective commentary.

Lately, however, the explanation of the conduct of some our media can be sought elsewhere, in the political life and situation of 5th century Greece, for politics and democracy, like philosophy, was a Greek invention.

Never before, in the West, had there been a society in which ordinary men, lacking either inherited authority or divine sanction, openly debated and decided on vital matters as war and peace, public finance, or crime and punishment and free movement of information. Political activity had become accepted not only as a legitimate activity but also even as the highest form of social activity.

Like Greece, our country desperately needs responsible journalists/press that abide by laid down rules and regulation to avoid common press related misdemeanours.

Unlike in the years gone by, the prime threats to media freedom today are within the institution itself, rather than from an overzealous government

Kenya journalism is currently in the throes of its most severe crisis in decades. A combination of censorship, unbridled partisanship and ineptitude are steadily eroding the gains that the local media has realised over the past decade. Unlike in the years gone by, the prime threats to media freedom today are within the institution itself, rather than from an overzealous government.

Ironically, the moment media is challenged about being unethical, it squeals about free press. But what about the freedom of the individual citizenry?

In essence, the media attacks both democracy and individual freedom that it and other players rightly fought hard for.

Kenyans paid with their blood for freedom. Commendably, some media practitioners have, over the years, earned a reputation for courage and integrity.

During the struggle for independence, scribes like the late Harry Thuku, RamogiAchieng’ Oneko and Pio Gama Pinto pioneered the journalism of liberation.

They transformed the nibs of their pens into lethal arsenals for liberation. They refrained from pedantic discussions on personalities and focused on issues. Instead of peddling rumours; they championed and pursued truth, human dignity and equality.

They exposed, challenged and fought against injustices, for which they suffered subjugation and oppression. Of late, under the banner of “media freedom”, gutter journalism is consistently promoted, irrespective of the rights of individuals that are continually trampled on.

Similarly, the same media no longer publishes educative articles written by independent “radical” scribes.

One is left wondering whether or not to blame it on naivety, lack of journalistic philosophy or deliberate decision to be of service to the ruling elite; one point of convergence, however, is that media’s coverage of the events related to graft is disastrous. Our media has specialised in the cardinal journalistic sin of presenting propaganda as if it were “hot news”.

It poses a serious danger as history risks suffering untruthful reflection, and in a truly distorted fashion. Indeed, drama and sensationalism, character assassination, misrepresentation of facts, tendentious reportage and trampling on individual rights are what we now promote under the guise of press freedoms.

Current talk show content on FM stations, and even music played, are pure manifestations of a decaying media in this society. Our media has failed to self-regulate itself through its own Media Council of Kenya. Similarly, it has allowed, if not helped, tendentious gutter journalism to flourish.

The major problem is that its ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few barons with very serious cross share-holdings which perhaps has made it difficult for regulators themselves to carry out their mandates effectively.

If we are to make government and those in power to account, a truly free and independent media is essential. This requires enterprise on the part of the editors and media owners – not to be confused with the owners of the commercial entities. (

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