For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed reading. I have been fascinated by words since I learnt how to read the ones that are longer than three letters. I remember looking forward to the end of the school day so that I could read the newspaper on the way back home. Although I don’t remember a lot of the content, I do know that I was amazed at how words were being used to report stories.
It was through reading newspapers that I began to desire a career in journalism. Sure, at that age, I wasn’t particularly aware of what exactly having a career entailed, but I did know that I wanted to do what the newspaper writers were doing. Yes, this was back in the day when journalists and the media in Kenya had as much freedom as a butterfly in its larval phase. And this is where the lion comes in. It is said that until the lion learns to speak, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. With all the restrictions placed on the media back then, they were pushed into the glorify-the-hunter ( read government) corner. I remember a time when the news broadcast started with the president’s less than extraordinary activities. The newspapers on the other hand could not openly criticize the government. Any voices of “dissent” were not tolerated.
Thank heavens for new laws and undeterred activists that have ensured that we now have media freedom. We still have a long way to go but what we have now is so much better than what we had or rather what we didn’t have.
With the freedom, one would expect that the media would get better – represent the common mwananchi, amplify the voices of those who have been forced to whisper for so long, evaluate the government and call them out on their inconsistencies and tomfoolery (we all know they have a pit and then some full of that), and generally keep the public informed. Instead, the reverse is happening. The Kenyan media seems to be competing for a clandestine Mediocrity Award. Reading the newspapers is for the most part distressing. If I was a kid today, reading newspapers would discourage me from pursuing journalism. One wonders what the editors are getting paid to do and how some of the journalists were hired. Articles consist of poorly constructed sentences and improperly placed punctuation marks with a side of events that follow no logical sequence whatsoever. In addition to that, there is the typical mixing of tenses and misspelled words. Really!? In this day and age when the spell check feature is bold about underlining questionable words?!? If there is even any news value in the articles it is often lost amidst all these clatter.
We depend on the media to not only keep us informed but also tell our stories. We hope that they can now give us information and stories that could not be shared back in the day when anything but the regurgitation of government communication was a sin. We want them to share information and stories that continue to be ignored by international media (another batch of hunters) that has laser focus on reporting on the negatives of this or that African country. Prior to the elections in Kenya, earlier this year, CNN did a report on how people were in the forest preparing for election violence. I am not linking it here because it was so ridiculous and should be archived as one of CNN’s failures. There was an uproar by Kenyans particularly on social media about the video. The reporter in question stood by it and claimed that it was an accurate portrayal of events despite evidence to the contrary.
Why do I bring up this story? Well, I want to emphasize to the Kenyan media that the stories you tell and how you tell them are both very important. You are the ones with the platform to tell our stories accurately, with compassion and the dignity that they require. You can’t possibly do this if you continue down the shoddy journalism road. You have to step up. The only other option is the hunter…err…I mean international media telling our stories. We all know they look at us through stereotypical lenses so that won’t work.
All this simply to say – Kenyan media, can we please have some professionalism. Yes, that includes the individuals who are in charge of your social media platforms.