Media has a patriotic duty to ‘get embedded’
Kenyan media cannot be neutral in the matter of the dispute between the government and Somalia regarding the maritime boundary dispute in the Indian Ocean.
Media houses registered and operating in Kenya, and enjoying the protection of this country which provides them with space to conduct business must definitely not only know the position of the government, but also proceed with the understanding that the government position is indeed the only position.
There can’t be doubt on that. It is the patriotic duty of every citizen. The erstwhile President Moi used to say his ministers must sing like parrots the positions he adopted and that saying is true for the media when the integrity of the nation is at stake.
Media have taken positions in the past. Following the post-election violence in 2007/8, the ground became hostile, the unity of the nation was threatened, lives were lost and others threatened, opportunities for business were vanishing and the revenue for media enterprises were in jeopardy. The took a collective position.
Their position was not to be neutral regarding the violence, which they all recognised as wrong, and to be countered by preaching peace.
This they did even as they remained neutral with respect to apportioning blame for the violence.
This media market is considered one of the more professional in the continent. For a long time, Kenya has had four daily newspapers.
But the electronic media environment has, since the migration from analog to digital broadcast six years ago, expanded beyond the wildest imagination.
As professionals, journalists are expected to be neutral in reporting. But there are stories in which neutrality is not an option for the media.
Media are an instrument of shaping opinion and mobilising a people. It must serve as a watchdog, but there are moments when media are not just watchdog, but part of a nation’s army in the war for the mind.
Over four decades ago, then Uganda President Idi Amin Dada claimed the western part of this country to be annexed and form the state of Uganda.
Kenya’s counterpart Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was categorical that not a single inch of Kenya was up for negotiations. Amin relented.
At that time the national newspapers, Standard and Daily Nation, circulated across the region, including Uganda.
Imagine a situation where the papers used neutral verbs such as Kenya “claims…” that the region was her territory.
What music would that have been to the fans of the Ugandan president. To use such verbs as Kenya ‘claims’, ‘asserts’, ‘alleges’, ‘contends’, ‘purports’, ‘suggests’, ‘argues’, ‘intimates’, ‘insinuates’, suggests that the media, a corporate citizen of this country, is itself doubtful about the nation’s boundaries.
Remember media, as the Fourth Estate, ranks as part of the governance infrastructure complementing the other arms of government.
If the media, through their choice of verbs, suggest they are not sure of the boundary of the nation, then by extension anybody laying claim to a portion of the country is justified since the citizens themselves.
In today’s digital world, there are no boundaries for media. The broadcasts in Nairobi and the media circulating in Kenya find their way across the border with ease.
Imagine the confidence such tentativeness gives to our opponents who are laying claim to what is a portion of Kenya.
There are examples for local media to learn from. When interests of UK are threatened, for instance, its media throw neutrality through the window and play the most partial advocate of the government role for the country.
A content analysis of the American media, the birth place of the media neutrality concept, exposes the verbs they use when the collective national interests are threatened.
The soldiers cease being American, and become “our soldiers”, “our military equipment”, and these journalists are embedded among the soldiers. It is the patriotic duty of a journalist.—The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University