The Press failed to capture best and worst of Africa

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BY EZEKIEL MUTUA

The Uganda bombing was a grim epilogue to Africa’s joyful first World Cup. As a beaming Nelson Mandela was hailed by a Soccer City crowd ahead of Spain’s victory, bombers were preparing to take scores of lives in Uganda.
 
When Kenya Today went to press on July 10 last week, it was almost with a profound sense of guilt. Its managers, editors, writers and other staff looked palpably disappointed that they would not be able to carry the reports on the World Cup’s final encounter the following day.

But we are a weekly publication, and so we went to bed safe in the knowledge that the dailies would do justice to the news aspects of this momentous finale and we would deal with the post-match analyses.

However, when the gruelling final between Spain and the Netherlands reached the two-hour mark on Sunday evening, going all the way to slightly past midnight (Kenyan Time), the dailies actually blinked and went to press without so much as waiting to download photographs of the triumphant Spaniards holding the World Cup aloft.

And so on Monday, July 12, the largest mass circulation newspapers in Kenya offered their readers only pictures of third-placed Germany’s 3-2 win over Uruguay. The Nation actually made do with graphics on page one.

So we, at Kenya Today, need never have fretted, after all. It would appear that the big dailies gave up and went home early, on the calculation that the whole world knew from the 24/7 news cycle global news corporations that Spain had beaten the Netherlands 1-0.

Nonetheless, newspapers much further afield from South Africa than Kenya per¬severed and captured not only complete narratives, great photographs and graph¬ics of the closure of the first World Cup to be held on African soil, but also the keening tragedy of the lethal twin bomb¬ings that killed dozens of football fans in Uganda as they watched the final.

Among other things, a singular failure of breaking news coverage occurred in the local commercial print media sector that night. Most Kenyans retired to bed almost immediately after the game and the first they heard of the Uganda bombings was on electronic media, both local and inter¬national, in the morning. They could find nothing in the papers about it!

The daily commercial press, therefore, failed to cover the best and worst of Africa running concurrently. The FIFA World Cup 2010 had a thrilling, almost incident-free 31-day and 64-match run, undoubtedly one of the best-planned, choreographed and executed mass specta¬tor event ever held in Africa.

And the Uganda bombings must rank as among the most despicable things that could happen in Africa. The newspapers went to bed early, both figuratively and lit¬erally, and left the coverage of both events to others.

As Jeevan Vasagar of the British newspa¬per The Guardian commented that Monday: “This is a grim epilogue to Africa’s joyful first World Cup. As a beaming Nelson Mandela was hailed by a Soccer City crowd ahead of Spain’s victory, bombers were preparing to take scores of lives in Uganda”. The failure of local media to cover this dire and outrageous event as it broke means that barely any meaningful home-grown media monitoring is go¬ing on even in Kenya’s most prestigious newsrooms. It also means that Sunday night – World Cup Final or not – is a particularly fragile and inattentive time in the newsrooms, a time, indeed, when most media houses have completely dropped their guard.

The Uganda bombing was actually relayed, on a breaking news basis, by both Al Jazeera and CNN – and, no doubt, many other channels – as the game was still going on. Many European newspapers were able to capture it in their Monday editions, despite all the excitement of the World Cup remaining in Europe.

What’s more, the lazy news-management decision to ignore a World Cup Final played on African soil just because it had no African team and ended slightly after midnight and just because it was virtually no news, was all the more reason the big commercial papers ought to have captured the outrage in Uganda.

Total dependence on foreign news monitoring, which costs money in hard, convertible currencies, is a shame and a sham in this day and age of integrated and converged information communications technologies (ICTs).

The most horrific attack occurred at a rugby club in Kampala as fans watched the Cup Final on a large-screen TV outdoors, while the second blast took place at an Ethiopian restaurant.

The simultaneous bombings in Uganda bore all the hallmarks of international terrorists’ tradecraft. Al Shabab is an outfit that has threatened Kenya recently. Kenya’s media (and national security organs, too) must be constantly on the lookout for just the kind of outrage perpetrated in Uganda.

But leaving 24/7 news coverage and monitoring to others is lazy and self-defeating. Indeed, it is akin to leaving the 24-hour economy to others and becoming mere spectators. News monitoring and news gathering go hand-in-hand and both are 24/7 preoccupations, as is the desire to be first with the news.

And in this age of real-time news avail¬able instantaneously via the latest advances in ICTs (video, audio or text material), there is no excuse whatsoever for the lazy¬bones approach to news management.
 
(The writer is the Director of Information and Public Communications.  This article is on the current edition of Kenya Today).

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