By  David G Maillu

 “The media has failed Kenya and only God will save us?” That was the headline of Prof Kabaji’s article fighting with the media. But where has that God been until things became that bad? I don’t know whether he was responsible for authoring the heading or it was a creation of the editor (as they usually do) in order to attract public’s attention to read the article.

But honestly speaking is that statement really true and responsible? It falls within destructive criticism, or using a gun to kill a fly. Armed with the intellectual AK47 killing machine Kabaji says, “There’s a general but fallacious view that Kenya has a very strong and responsible media and that the lullabies we sing about the strength of our media have induced complacence of unimaginable proportions as the lords of mediocrity dance with joy and ecstasy.”

 Gathered from his past published statements, Kabaji has fallen in love with the word “mediocrity” with which he views the soio-political and economic development of this country. It’s so easy to say, as President Nyerere used to curse, Kenya is a man-eat-man society.” This sweeping and crude criticism is the language commonly employed by politicians who, drugged by destructive power, would only see the bad side of their competitor and would never ever give any credit to anyone else outside himself.

 In order for me to show that Kabaji is charged like a bull shown red cloth, it is only fair to address the development of the media house within the context of the development of this country. May be Kabaji was still a green boy during President Kenyatta’s time when Attorney Njonjo underlined the media’s playing ground by ordering, “It is treasonable for anyone to mention or talk about the death of the President (Kenyatta).” The only radio station was the Voice of Kenya, and media houses knew too well it was in their peril to publish any unacceptable thing to the government. Critical censorship was the soup with which information filtered to the public. In that time, what media house would have dared even publish a cartoon of Kenyatta leave alone one on Njonjo? President Moi’s time? No way, even though a hybrid cartoon of Moi could be published. For example, today the media is characterized by Kenyatta’s cartoons depicting his big lips and you have to watch the YZ animated cartoon programme as a measure of how far Kenya has gone in growing a strong media.

 The robust (less responsible) media expression we are enjoying today kicked off mainly with the coming to President Kibaki who bought their way to state house by promising the public “zero tolerance in corruption” and “freedom of the press.” A substantial fraction of the press freedom (which Kabaji doesn’t appear to give credit to) greeted the nation but the “zero tolerance in corruption” remained Kibaki’s political ghost. Unfortunately, soon Kibaki realized that he had created a monster in the freedom of the press, then he went in vain after its neck. After Uhuru picked up the political relay, the press monster has been giving him nightmares and he’s dreaming of killing it or critically crippling it one day.

 Professor EgaraKabaji, is that true? From the participatory point of view, the standard under which the media is operating now, it can accommodate Kabaji’s challenges of lack of professionalism, where he articulates important points. I would add to his cry by adding the fact that the media boys and girls appear to wallow in mediocrity. However, let’s not forget that in matters of strong and responsible media, Kenya has very short history against the long history of the process of the death of gagged media. I can categorically say that, although we are not fully there, ultimate strong and responsible media is in sight. Germans have a saying that that which is better can be made even better. It is from here where the media is today that it should plan how to reach professionalism. Notwithstanding, that professionalism is brought into force by collective efforts, which should include government’s acceptance to swallow its pride on behalf of the civilized society it upholds. Governments survive on exploitation of the mass and misuse of powers and are usually killers of any democratic space threatening its sitting on the laurels.

 The Kenyan media is symbolic of the structure of the Kenyan government and its capital city where by-laws are usually ignored in urban development and dangerous and illegal buildings are mushrooming from every corner of the city without consideration of security and health hazards. Quick, quick money is the cardinal law.

 The media is not exempted from that culturally home-grown corruption. Politicians, business people, tycoon, goons and even religious leaders are corrupting media houses to be given space and plastic surgeries. Some of the top business people smiling before camera’s are the worst thieves the nation has. If you write a professional article exposing one drug trafficker or “mafuta-mingi” persons, guys in the media house capitalize on that by informing the victim who, in exchange, kills information by paying it off the press and, if necessary, write and publish one that cleans the victim. You have to be someone with big money to be published. There are hundreds of journalists who are almost professional hit-men for writing anything damaging about anybody. Journalistic prostitution is rampant in the media houses.

 The Kenyan media houses have forsaken nationalistic reporting for urban reporting where most of what you read is sheer recycles information. For them its is too expensive to engage in serious research works in all walks of the nation. It is easy to walk down the street or appear at the political rally somewhere, take pictures and write just a story for the newspaper. Or create scandal by ridiculing a politician against another one in order to attract articles. Politicians who were appearing in the papers ages are still dominating the features although they say nothing worth publishing other than promoting political bankruptcy of ideas.

 Worst of all, of course, media houses are owned by individual persons who, of course, have vested interests in what is being published. A common place interest is in using the media as a tool for fighting and promotion of ethnic political matters and, consequently, using the media to fight against their enemies and promote their tribe. FM radio stations have excelled in fueling hatred speeches and tribalism.

 Publishing for the benefit of national consumption takes a secondary role. Hence, the published information is miserably void of ideology and nationalism, cultural and intellectual development. It is not foresighted information but for today; the future should take itself. The front-headline can almost tell you what the newspaper is principally carrying inside. The newspapers are not interested creating paths towards new ideas, new challenges, inventions, science, philosophy, art, name it and it is not there.

 It is not because of lack of trained journalists but the lack of ethics in the media houses. That lack of ethics cuts across the society and Professor Kabaji can tell another story regarding lack of professionalism in some of his colleague in the teaching fraternity and in high institutions of learning. It’s a national problem rather than sectional. The government has “eaten” the money for school books; national hospitals are poorly run and some corpses are decomposing in mortuaries because the electricity is not there…

 The government lacks operational ethics miserably; the media house is part and parcel of the culture of the nation.