Thursday, April 07, 2016

Shut down the 'net?

I don't believe Kenya can claim to have a free press (media) any more. It can claim that the press (media) is partly free, but if it does, it will have to admit that that freedom is shrinking. Fast. The Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya must know enough about causality to be confident enough to partially blame social media for the decision he took to place Chase Bank in receivership for twelve months this morning. But not even he could have predicted how much to heart some would take his words.

A reporter with one of the more rural TV stations declared,
We desperately need a law to regulate social media in these country. It's doing more harm than good to many. #chasebankkenya #truth
Ignore for a moment the troubling pronoun and ponder the irony of a member of the supposedly free press (media) asking the State to regulate social media because it does "more harm than good to many." 

About a decade ago, when John Njoroge Michuki warned that if one rattled a snake, then they must be prepared to be bitten, the press (media) was under siege. Kenya was enjoying a mini-golden age of fearless investigative reporting and Mohamed Ali and John-Allan Namu became household names. Today, not even editorial cartoonists' jobs are safe anymore as press organisations (media houses) sidle up to the football jock and bat their eyelashes in the hope that when he does finally have his way with them, he'll remember the prophylactics and K-Y jelly. Make no mistake, the jock will get the eyelash-batting lass over a barrel.

It is why self-censorship in the mainstream press (media) is increasing. Since 2008, when the press (media) stood over the corpses of hundreds because of what they reported, we have witnessed the steady rolling back of "media" freedoms, not at the hands of the State, but at the hands of "media" barons. This latest call by a newsreader to regulate social media is of a piece with the sacking of critical news editors and editorial cartoonists and it is proof that there are more quislings on Kenya's Fleet Street than ever before who have learnt nothing from the upheavals in the way "news" gets disseminated today. (I bet our newsreader will have a difficult time wrapping her head around "quisling".)

John Michuki's strong-arm tactics worked in an era when anything went and he had the muscle to get away with murder. The past is a different country and not even John-Allan Namu and Mohamed Ali dared to cross Old Liver Juggler himself. The late Michuki's successors don't have the muscle or the backbone for his kind of governing; they rely, more and more, on co-opting their targets and getting just enough of them to turn on their peers. Ms Regulate Social Media has been co-opted and if she knows it, she is full of guile for keeping it well-hidden. If she doesn't know it, she is a fool. (That troubling pronoun bothers me a lot.)

Many commentators on social media fear that in 2017 the Government will "shut down the internet" in order to control the narrative during the general elections. They have missed many signs of what I believe the Government will do; it will control the media narrative because it will have tame newsreaders and news editors in its pocket. It won't need to shut down the internet. It never ever wanted to.

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