Asking uncomfortable questions is our job, get used to it

Last Sunday, Kenya’s new Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua gave an interview to NTV’s Ibrahim Karanja on the state of the nation, a week or so after the Kenya Kwanza coalition took over the reins of power.

Later that same day, the straight-talking DP also spoke to KTN News for a somewhat similar assessment.

In what is emerging as his signature style, the former Mathira MP, shot from the hip and undoubtedly, ruffled many feathers.

Predictably, the reactions, particularly on social media, were swift, varied and numerous, as the DP’s new moniker ‘Riggy G’ acquired new meme renditions, at every turn.

But perhaps more intriguing was the amount of labelling and vitriol directed at the journalists who had interviewed the DP.

The haranguing of these professionals was partly informed by the raw loyalty of some of the DP’s supporters, but more alarmingly, it seemed to emanate from a largely misguided understanding of the real job we do as journalists.

While a good number of the conversations revolved around the DP’s pronouncements, many of the responses seemed to suggest that the journalists should have avoided certain questions or asked them in a particular way because ‘Mr Gachagua is now the Deputy President of Kenya’.

Nothing could be more contrary to the mindset of a good journalist.

In fact, if anything, some of the most consequential political statements in the just concluded electioneering season, came out of uncomfortable questions.

Kenya Kwanza leaders for instance, would probably not have got the ‘enough is enough’ slogan, if President Ruto, who was then a presidential candidate, was not asked those inconvenient questions about corruption, during the Presidential Debate.

For the record, journalists have a brief to respect and be courteous to those in authority but it is not their job to deify, genuflect to or venerate political leaders.

This is because journalists are trained to see politicians for who they are – servants of the people, duty bearers.

Journalists, therefore, ask questions, not on their own behalf, but in the name of the people. They give voice to the voiceless and offer themselves as a bridge between the governed and those in power.

That is why good journalists are not afraid to ask inconvenient questions and ask them doggedly until there is an answer or it is abundantly clear that none will be forthcoming.

Indeed, the logic is simple – the more prominent the public official, the more uncomfortable the questions are likely to be, after all even the Good Book says, “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”

Bob Woodward, one of the two American journalists who unearthed the infamous ‘Watergate Scandal’, captured the real essence of a journalist’s job in a TV interview, years after he and fellow pressman, Carl Bernstein, broke the earth-shattering story.

When asked why they had taken on such a risky story that eventually brought down United States’ 37th president, Richard Nixon, his answer was profound. “We simply wanted to find out what had happened,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with one of America’s TV networks, CBS.

Here was a complex investigation that implicated the president of the world’s most powerful nation and involved the deadly interplay of money and power, but Woodward, reduced it to a very basic journalistic motivation – finding out what happened!

Such is the primary description of a journalist’s job.

Journalists ask the uncomfortable questions for the old aunt in the village who has many things to say about politicians but will never reach any of them, they ask the inconvenient questions on behalf of the ‘mama mboga’ whose name has been on every politician’s lips these past few months but who would never make it past the numerous gates in parliament or the intimidating barricades around State House or that noisy uncle who is the champion of the ‘bottom -up’ economic model in family gatherings, but who will only ever hear the voice of the president or his deputy on radio, and will have no one to ask if the campaign promises are not fulfilled.

Of course, journalists like all human beings have their fair share of frailties and judgment lapses, and yes, they can be very annoying at times.

But it is all in a day’s work; asking uncomfortable questions to politicians whatever their rank, party or last name, comes with the territory – and so we must get used to it – or in Kenyan parlance ‘Zoea maswali hayo mapema’!

Joe Ageyo is the Editorial Director (Broadcasting) at Nation Media Group

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