On Thursday, December 5, 2012, the Daily Nation carried a front-page story titled, ‘Cardinal Njue seeks to bar media in row over hospital’The paper reported that the Catholic archbishop of Nairobi and chairman of the bishops’ conference, effectively the head of the church in Kenya, had gone to court seeking to bar the media from covering a dispute over multi-billion shilling properties in which he is a party.A priest has sued Cardinal Njue and a nun over the ownership and management of St Mary’s hospitals in Nairobi and Nakuru and the land on which they stand.According to Njue’s lawyer, Nangulwe Muniafu, “The matter is of great public concern to the Catholic faithful who stand to be prejudiced by any negative media reflection of the church.”The lawyer argued that any reports on the case both in print and electronic media should be blocked because the matter had already attracted adverse publicity.And so on and so forth. It is doubtful whether Cardinal Njue and his advisors took time to read the reactions of readers on the Nation website. Of the 39 comments posted by the time of writing this report, not a single one supported the cardinal’s move to gag the media. That should say something, shouldn’t it? But before we get to that, let’s state here very categorically that Cardinal Njue and everyone else has the right to seek redress for any sorts of injury they believe they have suffered.As head of the Catholic Church in Nairobi and Kenya, the cardinal has the duty to defend his good name and that of the institution in the eyes of right thinking members of the society. But how does attempting to gag the media help his cause? That is the crux of the matter, as the reaction to the story on Nation website suggests.First off: The media may have its own numerous sins, but its freedom to report matters of public interest as it deems fit is, as it were, cast on solid stone. That freedom is protected by the Constitution.We don’t know which way Cardinal Njue voted at the August 4, 2010, referendum on the Constitution. But what we do know is that as a Kenyan he is bound by its provisions.Second: It can never be up to Cardinal Njue or any other person or institution to determine for media houses what to report or how to do so. The responsibility for those decisions, which have important consequences for the particular media house and the nation, lies with the right authorities within the media house.Third: Anyone is welcome to challenge any of those decisions because the media is ultimately accountable to the public that it serves. There are several ways of doing that: raise the issue with the media house in question, file a complaint with the Media Council of Kenya or even go to court. But to seek a blanket gag of all media houses on unspecified grievances?Fourth: “Adverse publicity”, whichever way it is defined, cannot be a good enough reason to block media coverage of a court case that is of interest to millions of people across the country.Journalists have a professional obligation to report accurately and fairly. That is all. They have no duty to anyone to provide positive publicity or to turn their lenses away from ugly controversies – even when a cardinal or church is implicated. All that a journalist is interested in is the news.And fifth: Granted, the actions, words, non-actions or even the silence of ‘important’ people make the news. Yet the media has a duty to treat everyone equally, respecting their rights and dignity under the law and reasonable social norms. It is therefore wrong for Cardinal Njue to suggest that there are certain people for whom “adverse publicity” should be reserved.There is no doubt that the cardinal watches, reads or listens to negative stories about other people. He is not on record, as far as we can recall, for urging the media to avoid “adverse publicity” when it is other people who are under the spotlight. So what? Cardinal Njue is best advised to relax and let the media do its work.The church, and particulalry the Catholic denomination, does not have a distinction for accommondating dissenting views. That is the creed of the church. But in matters of public interest, the Church and its leadership may need to employ some tolerance of the kind the public is embracing since the passage of the new Constitution.
Did workers write Atwoli’s copy?
The umbrella workers body COTU has lost two labour movemnet leaders, Bros Maelro Tindi and Cephas Olala, in recent weeks. Consequently, secretary general Bro Francis Atwoli placed two ads in the star newspaper to announce the sad news. One could hardly resist the feeling that the brother, shaking with deep grief, wrote the messages himself. Overall he did fairly well.
In the first of the two messages appearing in The Star on January 9, Bro Atwoli “an- nounces the death of Bro Maero Tindi who succumbed to death after a long battle with the cancer of the colon...
“Bro Maero Tindi was one of the longest serving trade unionist in the country with over three(3) decades and a dedicated. committed Labour leader who both COTU (K) and the Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers (AUKMW) heavily relied upon for his wise cunsel and in him the entire Labour Movement in Kenya and across the regin have lost a man of repute who stood firm in defence of the lowly placed workers and who throughout his stay, offered his life to the workers.”
That must have left many a reader breathless.
And in the second ad about the demise of Bro Olala, Bro Atwoli largely copied and pasted that mighty sentence he had dedicated to Bro Maero Tindi.
“He has been a long serving trade unionist in the country with many years of experience and a devoted, unswerving leader who both COTU (K) and KPOWU relied heavily upon...” And so on.
We suppose COTU doesn’t need a PR department, as union officials are elected because they know how to talk, write, pull a face, wag a finger, sing, dance, mobilise, threaten and negotiate.
But may we suggest that, to enhance COTU’s public image, the workers’ movement hires a competent copy editor to throw an eye at Bro Atwoli’s and any other messages before they are dis- patched for publication? Or better still, to save on costs, Bro Atwoli enrols for an editing course by correspondence?
Western reports that distort Africa’s image
Most Africans get to know about important developments in their continent through news and analyses carried by foreign, mainly,
western media. There are many reasons for this, among them the fact that African media houses are generally small and do not have adequate resources to cover the large and diverse continent, or even a part of it, on their own. So they reproduce or buy content generated by the more moneyed foreign media outlets.
There is, as well, the issue of diversity of languages in use on the continent, which presents practical difficulties in media coverage. The colonial languages adopted as official languages in Africa have deepened the divisions of the continent. Moreover, Africa’s poor infrastructure poses a serious challenge to any media house that would attempt to do original reports about other parts of the continent.
And then there is the problem of mainstream African private media being entirely built on a business model. Like in the west, the media houses exclusively pursue profits. They lack the political consciousness to meaningfully commit to the full liberation of the African people. For this reason, buying foreign content makes business sense.
It is also the lesser of two evils: African media houses could decide not to use the often shallow and biased foreign content at all, resulting in increased ignorance among their audiences about developments in Africa, or they can use the reports with the attendant risk of entrenching among their audiences racist western stereotypes about Africa. To minimise that risk, editors would need to be very careful about what articles to use. But this does not seem to be always the case. In Kenya, newspapers carry by far the largest amount of news by foreign media outlets. Radio and TV news bulletins have one or two stories – sometimes none at all.
So it is our newspapers that are most guilty of propagating western distortions and stereotypes about Africa. Here are recent examples: On 23 January, the Star’s main international s tory was, “Gaddafi’s United States of Africa dream lives on” (p.18). The article was taken from the UK Guardian newspaper. “The muscular display of power and pageantry at the inauguration in Washington on Monday was watched by envious eyes around the world. Not least among those who yearn to build another USA – the United States of Africa – under a single president,” the report stated.
First, that headline about the United States of Africa being the deposed Libyan leader’s dream is misleading. Yes, Gaddafi who was overthrown and murdered by the west’s NATO soldiers, shared the USA dream. But it was not his. A united Africa under one president has been the dream of the continent’s liberation heroes from pre-independence days. It remains the vision of the African Union. And second, why should Pan-Africanism, the struggle for a united and truly free Africa, which is more than 100 years old, be attributed to feelings supposedly aroused by the inauguration of US President Barack Obama? The suggestion here that Africans can only copy from the west is not only erroneous by very insulting.
“Such was the dream of Muammar Gaddafi, a quixotic project that appeared to have died with the Libyan dictator but has now been rekindled by the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe,” the story went on. Look at that. What a grotesque misrepresentation! A united Africa is neither a “quixotic project” nor is it dead with Gaddafi. The idea is at the heart of the ongoing struggle for independence in Africa. And it is taking shape, slowly but surely. Minus unity, Africa cannot be free.
The truth is that for decades the west has fought fiercely to frustrate effective African unity. A United States of Africa would at once end western oppression of the African people and the wanton exploitation of the continent’s abundant resources. That is why the western media laughs at African unity as a “quixotic project” dreamt by the much-vilified Gaddafi and Mugabe.
On the day the Star carried this report, Nation ran a commentary titled, “France has a reason to go it alone in Mali” by Zaki Laidi, a professor of international relations in Paris. The writer sought to explain France’s military intervention in the West African nation ostensibly to destroy Al Qaeda-linked Islamists. France, Zaki wrote, “seeks to protect its nationals in the region, maintain stability in the Sahel where states are very weak and prevent Mali’s transformation into a base of Islamic terrorism directed at Europe.” In other words like the US, France is using the war on terror to justify military invasion of a “very weak” African nation in the Sahel.
“One explanation is to view the intervention as a neo- colonial bid to protect a French preserve. This is a profound error,” the professor continued. Really? “France has no interest in protecting a Malian regime that it knows to be corrupt and incompetent...” Black victims, white saviours! Of course numerous cases can be cited of France and the west protecting, not just corrupt and incompetent regimes, but genocidal ones in the continent and elsewhere. Who is this professor trying to cheat?
He went on: “France’s motivations are broader. In particular, France has always considered sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab world to be natural spheres of political and strategic influence that are necessary to maintaining its position as a global power.” So, professor, why deny the charge of neo- colonialism in the first place? Is this not, in fact, what neo- colonial strategies in Africa are?
The big question is: Why do our newspapers select these kinds of stories and commentaries? Do the editors in charge actually review them before publishing? What could be their objective? What value does such content add to Africans?
By Henry Makori
Bumpy road to digital broadcasting
The deadline for Kenya’s migration from analogue to digital television broadcasting was December 31,2012, but it flopped after the Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) obtained court orders blocking the switch until a suitable time after the March 4 General Election.
Kenya’s journey towards digital broadcasting follows the digital terrestrial broadcasting plan established at the Regional Radiocommunications Conference in Geneva that requires all countries to have migrated to digital
broadcasting by 17 June 2015. The Ministry of Information and Communications then established a taskforce that would oversee the switch and meet the deadline. “Digital broadcasting presents added opportunity for Kenyan viewers and listeners to have avenues through which their own stories, concerns and lifestyles are reflected,” says a report of the taskforce on migration from analogue to digital broadcasting in Kenya
The switch was to be done in phases starting with Nairobi - because it was 80-90 percent ready then switch off the rest of the country after the elections. But the dates were moved from June 17, 2012 to December 31, 2012 because many Kenyans were yet to buy the set-top boxes and the digital distribution infrastructure had not been rolled out. When December reached, Cofek challenged the plan claiming it would infringe on consumers’ and the general public’s right to information. Cofek also says the price of the set-top boxes is prohibitive for most Kenyans.
Kenya’s migration plan has been faced with many hurdles. “Most of the delays had to do with the availability and up take of the set-top boxes, legal challenges from some media owners unhappy with the government’s choice of companies licensed to distribute the signal, as well as legal challenges from consumer groups,” explains Meredith Beal, a Knight International Fellow working with the Africa Media Initiative. Beal is also the founder and chief executive officer of Lasting Value Broadcasting, a radio broadcasting company based in Austin, Texas.
Signet, a spin-off from Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) and Pan-Africa Network, a Chinese company, were licensed to distribute the digital signal. But other major Kenyan media houses that had set up a joint venture and applied for a distributor’s license complained that the process was not transparent.
Issue of set-top boxes
The set-top boxes remain a major cause of controversy. Part of the challenge had to do with changing the broadcast standard originally chosen in 2007. Kenya first selected the DVB-T standard which later changed to DVB-T2, a significantly better standard. Unfortunately, converter box distributors had already begun importing boxes based on the old standard and could not use them. They had to import new ones. In addition, in order to make the boxes affordable to average Kenyans, the Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA) was asked to waive the import duty on the boxes. Lobbying KRA took quite some time and the agency finally agreed to the exemption in the last budget. The waiver was not retroactive so box distributors were unwilling to lower the price after they had already paid duty.
Most of the infrastructure necessary for the migration is in place with local broadcasters already using the digital platform alongside the analogue. “But if significant numbers of Kenyan citizens who had analogue television sets were not ready and the switchover went ahead anyway, it posed the danger of leaving a large number of people
without access to news and information, particularly important with impending elections,” explains Beal.
Some countries have chosen to subsidize the purchase of the boxes. Uganda is also facing the same challenge of affordability of the converter boxes. “They considered subsidizing the purchase of the boxes but had concerns about people coming across borders to get free or really inexpensive boxes as well as counterfeiting the vouchers,” says Beal.
In the U.S. for example, each household was entitled to a voucher worth about 80 percent of the cost of a box (in 2009 a box was about $50 USD and the voucher was worth $40). They ran into problems with logistics for distributing the vouchers, which was the reason for one of the postponements of the shut-off date. For example, only two vouchers per address were authorized. They did not take into account addresses that had multiple residents, like senior citizen facilities. Also, the vouchers had an expiration date 90 days after they were mailed (not received). In a number of cases, the converter boxes were not in the retail stores in the area yet. So you would receive your voucher and go to the retailer but they did not have the boxes in yet. By the time they came, the voucher had expired. This led to moving back the date.
“CCK had been considering subsidy but due to budget constraints they probably will not. Getting the KRA to waive the duty was an important step,” says Beal.
Challenges not unique to Kenya
Other developed countries in the world with big budg- ets and substantial technical expertise and personnel that have completed migration had many challenges and had to move the date. “The United States moved the deadline three times for various reasons. The only country with a fairly smooth transition was China and that is because they could just tell everyone what to do. In most of the other countries there had to be some consensus between government, regulators, television station operators, converter box manufacturers and other stakeholders. So migration to digital is a daunting task for anyone,” explains Beal.
With the June 2015 deadline fast approaching, Beal is confident that Kenya will meet the deadline. Kenya and Tanzania are doing well as far as East Africa goes,” he says. Uganda has significant challenges in terms of budget constraints, technical expertise and coordination with all the stakeholders. Many TV stations in Uganda are ready but the whole infrastructure is not. Rwanda also has significant challenges but there are efforts to beat the 2015 deadline.
The challenges of the digital migration are many. They include; costs, capacity building and training, in some cases reorganizing departments, changes in workflow processes and procedures, technical challenges and viewer awareness. There are challenges also for content producers - media houses as well as independent production facilities who also must invest in equipment and training. Kenyan broadcasters can learn from other countries including sharing best practices regarding technical issues, identifying mistakes made. Kenya can also learn how other countries have educated their citizens.
Because of the investment needed, Kenya will end up with an oligopoly in distribution. While the digital leap comes with the advantage of lowering the average cost of production of programmes and opens up opportunities for more local content, the oligopoly will make it hard for new firms to enter the market. There will also be the danger of low innovation that normally exists when there is no competition in the market.
With technology comes the need to review regulation. There will be need for policies to deal with the diverse interests of the stakeholders, the resources required and the communication of implementation plans and timeta- bles. Then there are the many unanswered questions:
Will the migration widen the information divide between viewers who have acquired the converter boxes and those without? Will e-government services increase as a result of the migration? Will the spectrum regained be reallocated to provide Internet access for under-served areas?
Report proves media go after the election momentum
The Media Council of Kenya released its monitoring report for the month of September 2012 which analyses how the main presidential candidates for the 2013 elections were covered by various media.
The Council set out to analyze the quality of reporting and adherence of the media houses to the Code of Con- duct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya and the Election Coverage Guidelines. Indeed, if bias or negative press were the benchmarks of adherence to the code of conduct and election guidelines, then there was nothing out of the ordinary in the way the media covered the politicians seeking the country’s top political office ahead of the March 4 polls.
“The presidential candidates—Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, Musalia Mudavdi, Martha Karua, et al— were mainly covered during their election campaign rallies. The media houses gave extensive coverage to their common statements on national cohesion and unity without questioning their lack of a distinct political agenda,” the report says in summary.
But the report silently castigates the media for focusing too much on politics, saying that the coverage focused pre- dominantly on the dynamics and rumours related to political party alliances and coalitions ahead of the 2013 poll— topical issues such as employment, education, health, infrastructure and land rights were only rarely mentioned. This was, therefore, meant to reinforce the charge that Kenyan media is more focused on reporting about politics than development.
According to the report, Raila Odinga received the highest quantity of coverage in both print media and TV. In print, Kalonzo Musyoka ranked second, followed by Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi. On TV, Ruto came second, followed by Mudavadi and Kenyatta. Kenyatta ́s low coverage, the report points out, was presumably due to the fact that he was out of the country for part of the monitoring period.
The share of coverage given to politicians differed significantly in the individual media outlets. The People Daily, for example, proportionately covered Uhuru Kenyatta more than twice as much as the Daily Nation, whereas The Standard afforded twice as much coverage to Musyoka as The Star. Martha Karua ́s share of airtime on NTV was six times higher than on Citizen TV. KBC was significantly the station with the highest coverage of the less prominent candidates. The report observes that there was a significant lack of in-depth and balanced reporting, with more than half of all print news reports covering only one side of the story and nearly a third referred to only one source. Less than a quarter of all print news reports provided answers to all six What, Who, Where, When, Why and How questions.
Biased reporting was especially observed in connection with the by-elections nominations, the ICC proceedings and coverage of Miguna Miguna. Particularly, The People Daily ́s coverage was assessed as being predominantly pro- Kenyatta and anti-Raila. The question, in view of this re- port, would be; “Is Kenyan media executing its mandate as it should?” The answer, compared to how media else- where performs under similar circumstances, is in the affirmative.
As much as the Media Council monitoring report appears to castigate Kenya media for concentrating on political rhetoric at the expense of “development”, practice elsewhere shows that any other media would have behaved in the same manner under similar circumstances. If one takes the American political culture as an example, one will find that the media’s coverage is skewed towards “political rhetoric” than “development” during the campaign period.
Jeremy Peters, a political reporter for The New York Times specializing in presidential campaigns with a focus on the way candidates and political groups use media, recently published his report on media coverage of the 2012 U.S. presidential elections. He established that political rhetoric; personality cult and negative press hogged a large percentage of airtime across all cable TV networks.
For whatever reason, Peters said in his report, Barak Obama received not only more press during the electioneering period, but also more positive press. According to a Pew Research Centre released soon after the November 6 U.S. presidential elections, a solid 74 percent of the election coverage at Fox News featured Obama, whereas only 46 percent featured Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The split between Obama and his challenger in 2008, John McCain, was about even. Obama also received more positive coverage in general, when taking into ac- count 49 separate media outlets.
“Since he was the incumbent, one would expect the president to get a little bit more attention. But Obama's victory in the media was much to do with the quality of coverage as it did with the quantity,” Peters said of the statistics on the coverage.
He added: “For instance, 46 percent of the Obama coverage on Fox News was negative. That sounds pretty bad until you take into account that 71 percent of the Mitt Romney coverage on MSNBC was negative. Negative is another word for nasty.”
Speaking of negative or biased media coverage, it is important to point out that MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell was once forced to apologize after describing the Mormon Church of which Mitt Romney is a follower as “nothing more than a scheme cooked up by a man who got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it." In this regard, the comparison be- tween bias and negative press cited in the Media Council of Kenya report and that in Jeremy Peters’ on U.S. elections serves to show that media all over the world have the inclination to focus on political rhetoric and exhibit some partisanship during electioneering periods. The test is in the balance.
As Alan Colmes, radio and TV host for Fox News Channel, once argued— the press goes where the momentum is. I, therefore, don’t think one can accuse the press of bias if momentum is the issue.
In this regard, if Raila Odinga received the highest amount of coverage as per the Media Council report, it may be because he had more momentum than his opponents. And, if The People Daily was pro-Uhuru Kenyatta and anti-Raila, doesn’t it follow that media have the inclination to favour certain political persuasions over others depending on their editorial policy as demonstrated by MSNBC Lawrence O’Donnell’s disparaging remarks about Mitt Romney’s Mormon Church? In essence, the Media Council’s monitoring report only confirms that Kenyan media behave just like any other media in similar circumstances during elections. Whether that is a good or bad thing should be the subject of debate among practitioners and the public as the coverage continues.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 January 2013 11:39