The Demise of the Fourth Estate and Rise of the Fifth (Fake) Estate in Kenya
By Dorcas S
Back in 2006 then-Internal Security Minister John Michuki led a raid against the offices of the Standard Newspaper and its sister TV Network because “it had rattled a snake” and was thus being “bitten”. During the raid, copies of the newspaper were burned and TV broadcast briefly forced off the air.
The Standard’s crime?
They dared to criticize President Mwai Kibaki’s handling of the corruption scandals that bedeviled his government. The paper was also accused of “fabricating stories” and defaulting to the tried and rejoinder of most 3rd World dictators, Mr. Michuki’s actions were “designed to protect state security”.
A year earlier in 2005, the wife of Mr. Michuki’s boss former First Lady Lucy Kibaki (RIP) assaulted a photojournalist from the Nation Media Group.
Doing his job photographing the First Lady after she had led a Michuki-like dawn assault on the Nation Center! The hot-tempered former FLOK, like the equally hot-tempered John Michuki, was miffed because the Daily Nation had printed “lies about her behavior” – disrupting a party for the outgoing Country Director of the World Bank!
Ah the good ol’ days.
Fast-forward to 2017 and in the Donald Trumpian Era of 3AM tweets, “fake news”, “alternative facts”, “bloggers” and “vloggers” and suddenly the country’s media doesn’t have the tough-talking unforgiving Michuki nor the mercurial former First Lady Lucy Kibaki to worry about.
The power dynamics between the media, government and the public have been scrambled; some would say reversed.
Instead of worrying about government censorship of the media, the public now has to worry about fabrication of facts and events by self-proclaimed “journalists” and “media personality”; some on the payrolls of rich and powerful people like the Late John Michuki.
Othes just plain heartless.
But make no mistake about it, they are all driven by the relentlessness of the 24/7 news cycle and desire to scope that breaking news of the hour.
Against the insidious and insipient corruption that is in the very DNA of the society, Kenya’s 5th Estate is particularly vulnerable to the shifting dynamics mentioned above. The ominous specter of Jubilee’s “36 Bloggers” is real — the government’s denial notwithstanding.
Everyone has a price and truth and impartiality be damned!
The foregoing ethos is vividly illustrated by these individuals’ blatant lack of professionalism and basic journalistic ethics and code of conduct.
Slippery and exculpatory terms and expressions such as “speaking on background”, “unnamed official”, “an official who did not want to be named”, “quoting unnamed sources” and the very Trumpian and personal favorite “it has been said” or “people have said” preface most stories submitted by today’s journalists.
Flagrant and deliberate violations of journalist ethics, individual privacy and even more important as illustrated by the unsourced story regarding the medical condition of Rosemary Odinga, patient privacy, have all been normalized.
Specific to the condition of the former Prime Minister’s daughter, shadowy characters and pseudo-“journalists” breathlessly concocted unsubstantiated and uncorroborated stories with sensational headlines such as “Why I fear for my daughter”; stories that should not appear on the pages of a newspaper with the gravitas and reputation of The Standard.
And as is the case with the instantaneous nature of news in the age of the internet, the incorrect and/or patently false information is rabidly consumed by the memory-challenged public just as quickly as it is deleted from the offering site or retracted from public view. Unfortunately, the ensuing non-denial denial of improper journalistic ethics belatedly offered to the aggrieved does little to reverse the damage already done by the irresponsible reporting.
The damage is done even if in Trumpian fashion you’d like to “take it back”; not country but the fake news item!
Common human decency, especially on matters of one’s health, should compel one, regardless of their profession, to respect the privacy of the afflicted – this regardless of party affiliation.
The pain and agony of parents of an ailing child forced to explain their child’s condition should know no tribe or religion. The operational word being “should”.
When faced with ill health, regardless of gravity, we should all be Kenyans pulling for the stricken. Again, the operational word is “should”.
As evidenced by this story (frankly along with the drip-drip-dripping of innuendos over the health of another Odinga – Fidel), Kenya’s media have only proven right those in the mold of Michuki and Mama Lucy.
Indeed, things have changed since the days of the rabidly anti-media duo (of Michuki and Lucy) and as much as it pains me to admit it, President Uhuru Kenyatta was right – on this one item:
Thanks to the infantile quality of today’s journalism, newspapers are indeed for wrapping meat, just before its eaten of course!