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What is ailing Kenyan journalism?

Gukira’s post on the amnesia of Kenyan press is very thought-provoking. He raises a very important question: “We have long complained that the Western press presents “rubbish stories,” indifferent to “real issues.” Is the Kenyan press no less complicit?”

I think the Kenyan press is no less complicit and it is time that they should be taken to task. For instance, why were Kenyans overseas complaining that they were not getting a good sense of things on the ground from the press during the referendum when the Kenyan press had the resources to do more than just an orange-vs-banana story? Why aren’t we reading more honest and well-thought out stories? How can we complain about mediocre coverage by the West when we are doing a pretty abysmal job of telling our stories?

For a long time in Kenya the main challenge facing journalists was censorship and the absence of freedom of the press, yet now that the space for media has opened up there is very little serious or investigative reporting going on. If the Weekly Review could operate at the height of Moi’s paranoia, why can’t we have a credible independent weekly now? A comment by Acolyte points to some of the challenges: “I do agree with all that you are saying.I remember as a communications undergrad learning that one of the roles of the press is to educate and make the people aware. But lest we forget that that comes secondary to the aim of selling as many papers and advertising space as possible.I am sure that you are aware of the average Kenyan’s fascination with politics, they will talk about it day in and day out and most of the time not from an activist view point but from a party,tribal,individual view point. These political battles are Kenya’s version of America’s teen star wars ( no not the epic movie series ). But that of course does not make it ok. As a one time owner of a Kenyan press card you would be surprised how deep in bed many editors and politicians are there are many stories that would break politicians that have never made it to the mainstream media never think that those A4s/gutter press publications are all lies. “

The fact that Kenyans are fascinated with politics may explain the nature of the content that dominates Kenyan newspapers but it really doesn’t explain the quality. In fact, I think the papers would sell more if they did more hard hitting reporting. Remember the Standard expose on “politically correct” people? That edition was sold out.

I think one of the main underlying problems is, as Acolyte points out, corruption within the main newspapers. “Juicy” stories are killed all the time by “credible” journalists. The fact if you want your story to get publicized or if you want media attention you are pretty much limited to two newspapers also makes it necessary for people to try not to “piss off” journalists…I’ve seen this happen. There’s also a fear of defamation lawsuits and our poor track record at protecting whistleblowers. Then there’s the way the major media houses are being run today. Most of them rely on freelance writers to cut on salary costs and there are claims that reputable journalists find themseleves sidelined when they try to challenge the status quo.

Not sure how to get out of this conundrum…anyone want to start (and fund!) a newspaper?

233 comments to What is ailing Kenyan journalism?

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