Before you call us ‘Githeri’ Media, chew over this

In the hysteria that typically characterises election victories, many social media users have over the last several weeks mounted a sustained, vicious hate campaign against the Kenyan media.

The mob lynching has largely come in the form of unhinged gloating but, worryingly, some of it has even gone as far as suggesting that conventional media, is an unwelcome, nay, unnecessary nuisance in today’s Kenya.

Of course, the media as an institution that operates in the name of the people, is not beyond scrutiny. In fact, no other institution lends itself to continual critique than this ubiquitous entity that is befittingly referred to as the fourth estate.

But what we have seen in the last few weeks, is not a civilised critique. Instead, it is a continuation of what appears to be concerted campaign to delegitimise the media and make it inconsequential in the public space.

The lynch mobs allege that the media was not impartial in the just-concluded General Election, that the media did not just fail to accord all the candidates an equal opportunity to sell their agenda, but actively tried to sabotage the campaign of Dr William Ruto, who has since been sworn in as president.

These are serious charges that cannot be bandied about without any empirical evidence.

The most quoted source for these assertions appears to be a survey published by the Media Council of Kenya a few weeks to the election, that suggested a skewed overall coverage in favour of Raila Odinga at one point, but a similar study a few weeks later, indicated that the trend had in fact been reversed.

In any case, that survey largely focused on the quantity of the coverage rather than its content, and every communication scholar knows that the amount of coverage is often not necessarily a measure of good or bad coverage. But that is not the point of this article.

First, it is fair to say that an election is often a critical pitstop in our democratisation journey and at the end, all the institutions involved in it must engage in constructive self-reflection. The media, just like the IEBC, the Supreme Court, the Police, the government, the voters – everyone – must take stock and craft corrective measures for future elections.

Indeed, for the media, a sharp critique is always a natural sequel to every election. In 2002, for instance, the industry was accused of being too cosy with the Narc campaign and the resulting administration.

In fact, most of the coverage was so positive even the election, that everyone appeared shocked when the Nation exposed the Anglo Leasing scandal two years after the new government had come to power.

In 2007, the media was yet again accused, this time of allegedly stoking the flames of the mayhem that engulfed the country on the back of the disputed presidential election.

So pointed were the claims that one journalist was on the list of six suspects who were dragged to the dock at International Criminal Court over the violence. In the following election in 2013, the media was in the dock of public opinion, for what was termed as being too soft on the electoral commission and other state agencies and allegedly abetting electoral malpractices.

What is shockingly different in the latest barrage of criticisms, however, is the sheer denigration of the entire institution of the media. It is the profiling and vilification of individual journalists and the bastardisation of the noble work done by diligent professionals under extremely difficult circumstances.

Of course, the triumphalism is perhaps understandable given the high stakes that came with this election and the many obstacles the president and his supporters had to overcome to secure the electoral victory.

But the new government and Kenyans in general, must never forget the place of the media as an inescapable ingredient of a democratising and developing society.

The media is the only industry that is singled out and expressly protected by the constitution. This is because all other rights find their true meaning in the simple act of being able to express oneself. The media thus does not exist just for election times.

The media is a source of information for farmers seeking new market opportunities for their produce. The media in its diversity, is the first port of call for a rural parent seeking to know the fate of CBC or a Cabinet Secretary tasked with communicating the latest government policy on a new vaccine.

Indeed, even the new president will rely on media to keep the country updated on the raft of measures he is seeking to unveil in the coming weeks and months.

We can therefore choose to call it Githeri media because we are on social media and can type away all day long, but out there, the good old radio is still king, out there, people still watch TV in their homes and in shopping centres.

And out there, people still depend on mainstream media for some of the most basic decisions that make life worth living.

That is why like the French philosopher, Voltaire, we must say of the media “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

And by the way, quite a number of my ‘hustler’ friends love Githeri very much – I am just saying!

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

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