Wednesday, March 09, 2016

From pet to pest

KANU's orphans have famously thin skins, and the smiles with which they hide their blazing tempers seem to be slipping more and more these days. Kenya's "media owners" are very sensitive to this state of affairs and, in particular, the presumptive newspaper of record has demonstrated an acute sensitivity to this state of affairs. It is whispered, though no proof is adduced, that the drip-drip-drip of negative coverage by its journalists is about to be fixed, once and for all. After all corporate bottom lines are at risk if KANU's orphans decide to get even more muscular.

Of all the news outlets, only Gitobu Imanyara's The Nairobi Law Monthly could claim absolute fearlessness when it came to exposing and excoriating the KANU regime in the 1990s. It's reincarnation is a pale shadow of its pioneering past. In the mainstream news outlets, Gado and Maddo, and Whispers, were the satirists who exposed more with their panels and columns than any other reporter or journalist. Some, like Patrick Gathara, have tried to carry on in that subversive spirit, but you get the sense that so long as they help shift copies and not turn the wrath of the ad-buying serikali on their employers, they can do as they please.

KANU's orphans learnt a lot from the Professor of Politics; never come at your adversaries head on, even if you have the power to do so. Hit them where it hurts. It is why they own or control major media empires, which gives them a seat at the table with other media owners, including powerful ones like His Highness the Aga Khan. As media owners, or puppeteers of media owners, KANU's orphans no longer have to kowtow to the established players looking for favourable coverage. They can publish it on their own and they will spend goodly sums to make it so. (If you think that that "free" newspaper is free, you have not been paying attention, my friend.)

It is therefore, not unsurprising that media owners have learnt to leave with a sensitive cabal. Whatever they can do to go along in order to get along, they are prepared to do. So long as the bottom lines remain fat, they will turn a deaf ear to the squeals from their staff about journalistic and editorial independence. One of the things they are absolutely sure is that the people will not rise up in the name of freedom of the media or journalistic integrity. The people all want to get rich; how they go about it will not benefit one whit on whether national treasures like Gado continue to ply their trade in Kenya's presumptive newspaper of record or he finds himself exiled to the wasteland that is the paywall-less internet.

Supposedly brave publishers will continue to claim the mantle of fearlessness that Gitobu Imanyara surely wore with pride, but they will forever be exposed for the charlatans they surely are. It will come as a shock that favoured editors and cartoonists were treated merely as pets and now they are being treated as pests. They never expected to get the Mortein-Doom treatment, but that's the only treatment one gets when the owner of the pet thinks his pet has become a pest.

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