Friday, August 12, 2022

The era of Jicho Pevu is over

 “Th' newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’' banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.” - Peter Dunne

Kenya's softly-softly and incremental approach to constitutional reforms and implementation of the values and principles of the 2010 Constitution adopted an international norm as a truism: the press must be free to report the news, warts and all. Kenya's press, however, seems intent on devaluing the freedom protected by Article 34 through its cowardice, incompetence and greed.

In 2017, when Kenya last held a general election, it had become painfully apparent that the news media companies were in the grip of the political classes and certain parts of the State. Due to the intense competition between them, profits had shrivelled. Due to certain State policies, especially tax and anti-gambling policies, future revenue streams were threatened. News media companies laid off throngs of news reporters and journalists and replaced them with cut-rate entertainers. Investigative journalism - the kind protected by Article 34 - suffered the sharpest cuts. The era of Jicho Pevu is well and truly over.

In 2022 the extent of the decimation in the news media is apparent. This general election has laid bare the depth of the fall of the journalism sector. In contrast to 2017, where France-based server operators could not be roused, and the electoral body disobeyed the Supreme Court and refused to "open the servers", access to some of the raw data has been free and unfettered. Everyone and their cat has access to results forms for the presidential elections from the 46,000+ polling stations. Every news media company in Kenya has the chance to maintain a running tally (unofficial, of course) of the numbers, and informing their viewers and readers of the state of the presidential election. The news media has refused to do this.

It is not the job of news reporters and journalists to fondle and fellate the testicles of those whose they report on, not for money, not for access and not for favours. But here we are. We should have seen his coming. News media companies are profit-making entities. The bottom line is all that matters to shareholders. The health of journalism is important only insofar as it guarantees a fat profit margin. Business models that were based on advertising have cratered; advertisers have greater access to eyeballs than through classified pages or 30-second TV spots. The internet has democratised advertising and put a stake through the heart of the news business. Kenyan news companies have not adapted well.

Some have gone into gambling. Notice the number of TV ads promoting mobile betting? Some have got into entertainment. The share of entertainment programmes on TV outstrips news or educational media by a very, very wide margin. Some have started tabloids devoted to salacious and vulgar fare, in the hopes that advertisers will flock to those yellow rags. But the greatest change has been the severe moderating of the content published in the Op/Ed pages. Carefully reasoned anti-establishment screeds have been spiked; by and large, these days, it is milquetoast statements designed not to offend wabenzi. Kenya's journalism no longer afflicts the comfortable nor comforts the afflicted. Kenya's journalism is comfortable, its comforts coming from the assiduous attention of the political classes and State officers. The comforts are repaid by a supine, knees-apart approach to truth-seeking. If you have your mouth full of someone's testicles, you're not going to complain that his asscrack is rank, are you?

For this reason, and many more, you will not see them tell you the unvarnished truth about the Form 34s. You won't see them rock the boat. You won't see them lead from the front. You won't see them call out injustice and unfairness. You won't see them investigate political corruption. You won't see them defend the weak. You won't see them because they don't want to be seen. They just want to make money and have a good time. In short, they don't want to do their job but they want to get paid the big bucks.

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