Tuesday, December 06, 2011

He who owns the media calls the tune. Sort of.

The Occupy Movement that is 'raging against the machine' across capitals in the West has received scant media attention in Kenya, or even in Africa for that matter. The corporate media, as Noam Chomski would probably put it, have controlled the voices that people hear, and the same is true even here in Kenya where the images beamed into our living rooms or plastered across newspaper pages do not describe the Occupiers as legitimate protestors but a fringe group that opposes even well-meaning government programmes towards their own selfish, leftist desires. In Kenya, over the past few weeks, many members of different sectors of government have gone on strike: teachers, doctors, aviation workers and even the police, all demanding a raise in their terms of service. They have received prominent media attention, perhaps because the government is always a good target when it is mired in one controversy or the other. But it is the industrial action by other workers in Kenya that has received the short end of the stick, completely blacked out by all media houses, only receiving attention from the lunatic fringe of the print media, pejoratively referred to as the Gutter Press.

The corporate media in Kenya - the Standard Group, the Nation Media Group, Royal Media Services, and Radio Africa - are wedded to their bottom line than to the ideal of keeping the government on the straight and narrow, especially in light of the government 's long, tortured history of human rights violations on a scale that would have made the Pol Pots and Idi Amins proud. When the Executive Director of the Federation of Kenya Employers exhorts the government not to acquiesce to the demands of agitating workers, and calls for more 'tax reforms' to cushion the 'economy' in this time of 'economic uncertainty' what she means is that if the government gives in, the employees of the people and companies she represents will demand the same opportunities as those demanded by workers in the public sector, which will reduce their already exorbitant profits especially now that they need to spend those profits in getting the government they want elected in 2012. In Kenya's urban and urbanising centres, the disruption caused by online media, such as blogs and chat-rooms, has largely neutralised the impact of the print media, but still have a long way to go against the electronic media, the least not being that all major media houses now have a significant online presence.

Given the givens, it is surprising that Kenya's youthful population has not organised itself int an online army to demand the truth from those who purport to 'report the news'. Many of the doctors who are marching in the streets asking for a 300% pay hike fall within the category of youthful persons, despite their 7 years of training. To become doctors, they must have swotted through countless nights; no one would trust their judgments otherwise. Yet, it is impossible to sympathise with them when they are portrayed by the mainstream media as a bunch of selfish, ungrateful, over-educated crybabies hellbent on throwing the country into unwarranted additional turmoil just when it is in the middle of a major offensive against a diffuse, faceless enemy on foreign soil. The images transmitted on TV of the doctors on strike only show a mob of loud louts incapable of reasoning sensibly or soberly that does not deserve the support of the people or the sympathy of the government. The doctors may have legitimate reasons, but you would not know it from reading the main dailies or watching the 9 O'clock news. For all their intelligence, these doctors have failed to take advantage of their intelligence to pursue a multi-pronged, multi-medium assault on the government, to demonstrate to the people that they are not monsters who will allow Kenyans to die in hospital simply because they must be paid. If they thought that bribing the ever-ready-to-be-bribed pressmen into telling their side of the story, they must have been shocked when the editors and editors-in-chief chose only the sensational over the substantive and effectively branded them as untrustworthy and callous.

A careful examination of the corporate owners of the media in Kenya will demonstrate whether their interests lie with the people of Kenya or with the overmighty dollar. It will also permit Kenyans to have an honest debate about who own the means of production, who own the levers of power, and who own the tools of accountability so that when we debate, say, tax reform or industrial relations policy, it will be done in the full glare of the sun and not in the shadows as is the custom in a nation where who owns what remains a secret that not even death will prise from their bossoms.

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