Wednesday, October 29, 2014

All for a belly rub.

I feel bad for Patrick Gathara. I watched as he unsuccessfully made the case for the public-interest obligations of the "media" before Clay Muganda, Ngunjiri Wambugu and Denis Itumbi on Sophia Wanuna's Morning Express on KTN. I might be pedantic about it, but I believe Mr Gathara's first mistake is to equate the "media" with a press. That may be the modern and lazy thing to do, but the two are not synonyms of each other. The press may employ media, but the media isn't necessarily a press in the context of reporting the news, especially political news. Mr Gathara's second problem is assuming that Kenya has a press.

It is only a matter of time before it dawns on Mr Gathara and his fellow-travellers that what Mr Itumbi and his colleagues in the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit have achieved is nothing short of a propaganda victory against Kenya's leading media houses, Royal Media, the Standard Group and the Nation Media Group. Mr Itumbi and his colleagues have managed to make the national Executive tail wag the Fourth Estate dog; rather than the press, through their media houses, reporting the news of the day, it is the PSCU that recites the events of the day to media houses through the press. What Mr Itumbi and the PSCU have achieved is the recreation of the All Moi, All the Time "reporting" that was the staple of the voice of Kenya/Kenya Broadcasting Corporation for nigh on two decades. And they have done it without plastering the Commander-in-Chief's face on our TV screens every second of the day. It has been a brilliant coup.

The other night I watched Macharia Gaitho defending the press on Mark Masai's PressPass on NTV against Mr Itumbi again. He did his best to remind NTV's viewers of the glorious past of the press before and after independence. But Mr Gatho and Mr Gathara, eventually, will have to take a step back and examine the news media environment. If they do not weep in shame, then they are stronger men than many. The press, especially the news media, is lying supine on the floor for all manner of strangers to rub its belly. While these allegations have never been proven, the fall from grace seems to have started when Kamlesh Pattni became a frequent visitor along the corridors of justice. The rumours of brown envelopes of cash exchanging hands between press-hacks and Mr Pattni's minders for favourable coverage of Mr Pattni's shenanigans have refused to die down.

Mr Gathara's plea for the press to report the news and to offer objective coverage of issues of public interest will fall on deaf ears and Mr Gaitho's spirited defense of a sector that has become more capitalist than most will be met with eye-rolling from insiders. It is up to "citizen" journalists to keep the fire burning by dedicating their resources to holding their government to account. What used to be the job of the press has been overshadowed by their parent companies' desire for profit at all costs, even if part of the price to be paid is to cozy up to the powers-that-be for a belly rub.

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