Time for the Kenyan media to reflect

We took to the streets, braved teargas and even gagged our mouths with tape, in the great name of protecting our profession from what we dubbed a rogue Parliament and a cheeky Executive. But being among those who were most vocal – I stand on the same podium and say that we have failed.

It’s not the self-regulation that has failed; it’s the Media Council of Kenya that has largely not performed its task.

Peer regulation is the only acceptable standard of checks in the media globally, but constantly we are in a situation where that model needs the touch of outside players, a mix of government, business executives and the normal mwananchi.

Our Media has since dropped educational programmes on TV and Radio, in Print popular pullouts like Black Board have been replaced by the better selling lifestyle ones. Agriculture is rarely mentioned unless in scandals; the technical bits have been left to the experience of farmers, and in its place we have created a political pulpit in our prime time news and front pages.

Commercial news is only plainly presented in accordance with the depth of advertisements a company engages, as we recently saw that in the coverage of a technical report of the Kenya Airways Douala air disaster.

Luckily in the mainstream channels, media owners do not interfere with content, however a trend is developing where regional stations are identifying with political inclinations, vernacular and community stations are no longer speaking to people in an area.  Instead they are addressing those who speak their language.

In other words if I am Maasai living in Nyeri, the local vernacular station should speak to me if I understand their language, but instead they speak to the native Kikuyu and that is the trend across the country’s stations as a recent report by Peace Net found.

Unlike Capital FM and recently KTN we no longer trust our own media professionals to analyse issues, because we have reduced them to mere reporters instead of eye witnesses who tell comprehensive stories.

Court reporters who win our trust disappear from the scene at their peak, Parliamentary journalists, who understand the political game fade away to better paying jobs at their maturity and a lot more.

However, back to my argument; there is no single case that the Media Council can claim to have solved. Several times issues have been raised and despite numerous promises to ensure they are resolved, they haven’t gone on record with a deal.

The composition of the Media Council is itself questionable and I doubt many of the people there given their work history would be willing to summon senior managers of any defaulting media house.

The body has not even been able to rein in quacks who have invaded the industry. MCK has not fought sub standard colleges in town, other than the lovely press cards, issued annually – and that because there is income involved – I don’t see any notable action by the Media Council.

This industry needs to go back to the basics.  The revival of  the union to deal with bread and butter issues and the formation of a professional body – and on the latter we must have credible practicing journalists not busy bodies with an eye on the likely financial benefit such a move is likely to attract.

Better still perhaps it’s time journalists began owning media houses as a way of competing with the current structure of media owners.

Media owners have a body, Editors have a club of discourse, but journalists, who are the engine of the media are lonely, disintegrated and intentionally divided through employment loyalties.

The day journalists rise, unite and make a body to address economic empowerment through mortgage programmes, intellectual development through a journalism bursary programme such as the one in South Africa and career notes exchange, self regulation will have closed the self censorship lines currently dubbed House Policies and introduced a responsible media for the people.

For now I agree with both Philip Ochieng and Kwendo Opanga. It’s these two gentlemen who respectively observed, “ I accuse the Press” and “The Media will never be completely free or independent.”

Dear colleagues let’s celebrate this year’s Press Freedom Day, but let’s seize the agenda, it’s our profession that’s suffering the blushes.

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