By Dikembe Disembe
It is surprising that it came from this end. To many, this blog is synonymous with anti-government tirade. Yes, it (mis) handles government officials and politicians in government. We are not engaged in government PR or ‘strategic communication’. We are not part of the 5th columnist journalism – holding brief for the powers that be.
Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo yesterday made a tough call on journalists propagating ‘propaganda for war’especially on matters dealing with the security of the country. In particular, he singled out the popular investigative series by KTN’ John Allan Namu and Mohammed Ali.
As usual, faceless and voiceless Kenyans took to the social media again. Both Twitter and Facebook was last night ‘appalled’ by the senior security official’s comments.
But, in a larger sense, methinks Kimaiyo is right. There is need for journalists to go back to the basics. The basics, journalism 101, deals with what constitutes standard practices and ethical codes needed for the practice of journalism.
During the whole Westgate incident, there was a point when it appeared that the police, or security organs, had lost the ‘information and communication’ competition with both journalists and bloggers. Yet, in such times, regardless of what people want to hear, the basic rule; the standard practice, is that certain information MUST NOT get to the masses.
There is a reason for this. In mass societies, the level of consumption of information differ among various peoples and groups. This ‘difference’ has to do with what McLuhan (father of modern journalism) calls ‘technological determinism’. Society’s handling of information is ‘alleged’ to be in tandem with the sophistication of that society, in terms of technology, to handle such information. This is purely academic but there is some truth in it. Let’s leave it at that though.
Robert Alai, for instance, emerged to the ‘top geek’ in disseminating all information related to Westgate attack. I am among the many Kenyans who congratulated Mr Alai. Using McLuhan’s theory, one can argue that because Alai’s level of technological know-how is way above the average Kenyan with a Facebook or twitter account, he was able to develop a ‘consistent, coherent and concise’ strategy of ‘handling’ every bits of information which he was receiving.
Again, and this may have bypassed many, probably there are thousands of the bits that Alai did not share with the public. It can be argued that Alai knows more than most of us as regards what happened at Westgate. I followed hist tweets with excessive curiosity because on that material week, I was writing a term paper on technology, society and information.
As a student of mass communication, the way information is managed by journalists serves the very essence of journalism in this new age – to provide a context for conversation – which then allows people to make informed public judgement of the issues which the media ‘frames’ as important and affecting their lives. Information is not like those goods we purchase in the supermarkets. You see, each of us feel we are ‘owed’ certain ‘explanations’ on what occurred at Westgate. Yes, because we want to make a decision on what really transpired. It is the indecision which comes with scant information that bothers us. You may not realize this because it is prevalent. It is how we internalize human happenstances.
But, it is not the ‘information’ that we need; it is the efficacy that comes with having that information. The capability to ‘do something’ with the information we are getting. Can the information, or explanation, sustain a societal dialogue? Which conversation will the information trigger? What action should follow?
In a larger sense, this is what IG Kimaiyo, who apparently only picked from where the Media Council of Kenya had earlier noted (bloggers with no basics), is saying. Kimaiyo is saying journalists need to share information with the society but he differs (and I share his sentiments) with the ‘manner and form’ of the information that society should consume.
Should Ali and Namu, for example, reveal every bit of information that the police, or security organs, are unwilling to share with the public? Is not this why a certain short man is presently cooling off in Europe? At the Hague? The Kenyan society is stupid, prehistoric and highly irrational. The sophistication to comprehend complex issues of Â humanity, like terrorism or ethnic cleansing, is not here yet. In such an environment, a level of ‘blackout’ is needed to contain people’s raw and primitive emotions when it comes to understanding ‘what the heck is going’ on!
Truth is, we Kenyans, like many in this continent, are just but noble savages. Information meant for the public good can be turned into an instrument of mass destruction. This is why the police, whom we institute amongst us to form a wall between us (good people) and the bad people, are worried about this new trend of the media releasing information merely for TV viewership and, disingenuously, for the journalists to get mentioned during those useless award gala nights full of twilight girls, lust and pretentious smiles!
I dare urge IG Kimaiyo, “boss, arrest those two fellows! kwani iko nini?” We need a society which believes what they are told officially; if anything, after time has washed the present realities, say after a decade, these files are often declassified for everyone.
We need journalism which works within the rule of law and also within official fiat. The latter, official fiat, is what education proffers on journalists. Official fiat will inform what information should one release, and which bits should be kept as ‘top secrets’. We call it ‘narrow regime’. Moha and Namu, sorry boys but your investigative series on Westgate – a collection of images, innuendoes and outright lies – reeks pungently of propaganda for war.
You two are guilty as charged.