Third Eye

Why media ignored Kisumu demolitions story

Friday, September 20th, 2019 00:00 |
Demolitions underway. Photo/File

There is a big story in Kisumu that has hardly been a subject of coverage in Kenyan media. Previously, any visit to the lakeside city would never be complete without a visit to the famous Lwang’ni beach. Not any more.

Lwang’ni was a sprawling mabati kiosks right on the steps of the lake from where you had a clear view of the lake or the hyacinth if the weed was in season and stretched as far as the eyes could go.  The kiosks sold tilapia in all manner of forms that suited the taste of the customers.

Over the years, some parts of the beach graduated to offer better ambiance and service but, of course, that meant the fish sold at that location was a bit more expensive.

But Lwang’ni beach, together with other business establishments along the lake, are no more. The place has been flattened to make way for the improvements that are said to be coming to the location.

We have been used to witnessing mayhem in Kenya any time there is clearance of old structures to give way for other developments. People living in Nairobi have been particularly notorious for this. 

Given the history of Kisumu and the fame that it has in leading in unmatched protests, one would have expected possibly the mother of protests in Kisumu.

However, when the bulldozers descended on Lwang’ni beach, it seems like the occupants simply packed up and left. This was history in the making. Why did it escape the media? The answers may not be too difficult to find. 

News fits into neat frames and when events that unfold don’t fit into those frames, journalists are too often lost on what to do. They let the story pass.

Stories from Kisumu have been predictable. This region of the country occupied predominantly by the Luo ethnic group is expected to have only one response to any provocative event: violent protests mainly marked by flying rocks of all sizes and shapes. 

Events unfolding in that manner are easily covered because they fit into newsroom’s neat frames – the Luos are at it again.

A visit to the lake side elicits all manner of explanations as to why there were not protests when the bulldozers descended. 

Among the more sophisticated of Kisumu residents, the explanation is more philosophical. The Luo, they argue, have always stood against injustice. The takeover of the area by the fish kiosks was injustice and their removal was simply an act of righting the wrong. It would have been contradictory of the Luo character, they say, to protest when a past wrong was being made right.

The more ordinary folk have a simple explanation. Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is the region’s undisputed leader, is perceived to be always right and since he did not object to the demolitions, then it was the right thing to do. Chapter closed.

Whatever the explanation, however, it is still simply confounding that the media missed such a prominent story simply because it did not fit the traditional news processing frame. There is no way this would have not been  a major story if there was violence.

To what extent then does the media serve the interest of the public if its coverage of events must fit such a narrow established frame? Think of the many events taking place in society, all of it important, but which go without notice simply because it does not fit the narrow frame that media houses have formed?

Further, it explains the herd mentality of the media world that they all go for the same stories and uniformly miss other stories. 

The media industry is so lacking in creativity that would distinguish one from the other. They are such a mirror image of the other that to dupe one is actually to dupe all.

— The writer is the Dean, School of Communications, Daystar University

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