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Wednesday, 16 August 2017

POLICE BRUTALITY PREVALENCE AND MEDIA AMBIVALENCE

In a shocking violent act, during the protests that followed Kenya's General Election, a six- month-old infant is believed to have been clobbered by anti-riot police. The parents' pain is unimaginable, after the demise of their little one. The local electronic media extensively covered this prevalence of police brutality. It appears though that there was some ambivalence in how the story was treated by a section of the print media.


How else can one explain the front page teaser of such an evocative story, in the country's leading daily? The heading 'mildly' states:
'Infant caught up in police raid dies'.
It's as if the police are being absolved from blame. One can even conclude the tragedy was accidental.

Notice the difference with the main story, tucked in the inside pages.


The impression is that this was a deliberate act and the riot police are directly responsible for the infant's death.

Why didn't the front page teaser read something close to:
'Infant beaten up by riot police dies'?
One can almost detect something sinister, here.

Whether it's fear by the paper to represent the entire truth, or tactically seeking to distance itself from prominently apportioning blame, it's clear in this instance that this sad story, is being handled subjectively.

Friday, 11 August 2017

KENYA ELECTION: MEDIA HITS, MISHITS AND MISFITS

It's been a grueling last few days in Kenya, in yet another competitive General Election. The actual polling day was remarkably smooth, with only a few challenges. Then came the tallying of votes and all manner of electoral malpractice allegations started to be thrown around. The media had a difficult task of verifying information. But in the end, a winner was officially declared.


Covering the election as a journalist is not an easy affair. The pressure to deliver timely and factual content is almost unbearable.

Many local newsrooms were on a long-haul mode, interspersing live updates from main studios, with live links to reporters scattered across Kenya.

All manner of political analysts and pseudo-experts were also accorded acres of space and copious airtime to either showcase their grasp of issues, or 'regale' the audience with their ignorance.

And not many people were satisfied with the media coverage.

I, too, had many a cue cringe moments, especially when rookie TV reporters had their on-screen moment of fame, (or is it infamy?), or when the calibre of questions being fielded at pressers came off as a tad elementary.

In all fairness though, the media did not utterly disappoint.

There's always room for improvement, but there were positives to build on. And that's my point!



Thursday, 3 August 2017

DITCH FORMALITIES, CUE POLITICAL STAGE NAME

It's only a matter of days now before Kenya's General Election. The country has nevertheless almost perpetually been in an electioneering mode, ever since the last polls. The newsroom frenzy of election campaigns coverage has seen the media and politicians form an unwilling alliance. Is it surprising then that a newspaper can deem it fit to ditch formalities and just refer a prominent politician by his political stage name?

Is it a case of too much familiarity?

Maybe it is yet another attempt to try and match the style and lingo of millennials.

Or is the shortened version of the name more convenient for the available space for the headline?

Whichever the case may be, it is a tad distressing for a national paper to assume any potential reader, will understand who the person they are referring to is, be they locals or foreigners.

One is even tempted to think that at this rate, we'll soon start seeing the media having no qualms about using popular nicknames like Rao, Uunye, MaDVD, or other more disparaging references, on first mention.

If that is the trend, then I fear we could soon be seeing the local mainstream media disastrously mimicking social media parlance, in a desperate attempt to retain a vanishing audience, in order to remain relevant and viable.

Quotation marks would have sufficed here, but don't quote me!



Thursday, 27 July 2017

A HEADLINE'S PROMISE AND A DELINKED ARTICLE'S PREMISE

A headline is primed to sell a newspaper if on the front page, and any article elsewhere. This means a lot of responsibility is bestowed on whoever is tasked with crafting headlines. A reader has every right to feel offended by an article's headline that seems unrelated to the story it's calling attention to. The headline makes a promise, but the article's premise is delinked from it.


It's pretty much like ordering a burger only for the waiter to call you a bugger...now that's ugly!

So, in the newspaper story above, the main headline states:

'Teachers assured of higher July salaries'.


Now the obvious expectation is that the story will be about salaries...higher salaries...for the month of July...being assured to teachers.

The deck introduces a twist even before the reader gets to the body of the article, by proclaiming:

'Kuppet official says there are plans to withhold salaries till after August 8 polls'.

At this point, there appears to be some conflicting elements in the story being anticipated.

One angle talks of higher salaries, while the other alludes to fears of salaries being delayed.

An already confused reader would want to get clarity from the story intro.

But the story's first paragraph is more closely related to the information contained in the deck, and bears no resemblance to the contents of the headline.

It is beyond temptation to assume an editorial preference was given to the higher pay angle, as opposed to the delay in payment contention.

If that's not deception, what else can you decipher?

(Try not to link the defective headline to elective politics in Kenya).




Thursday, 20 July 2017

DIMINISHING VALUE OF LEGACY MEDIA

It's no longer debatable. The mainstream media in Kenya is undergoing a serious erosion of its appeal. That politicians can elect to ignore such a powerful platform in an election year, speaks volumes about the diminishing value of traditional mass media. The legacy media is losing its influence, which in the past has driven the transformation agenda for the country.


That a debate meant to feature more than 5 candidates seeking the second most powerful seat in Kenya, featured only one candidate, is an indication of a fading local media and its waning dependability

Granted, there are now so many alternative ways of pushing political messages to the electorate, such that one need not worry about access or lack there-off, to established media channels.

But the proliferation of digital platforms and the availability of social media networks, should not be an excuse because mainstream media houses have strived to tap into these emerging communication technologies.

So what ails the legacy media in Kenya?

- The dynamics of journalism have changed but attitudes of journalists remain the same.

- Young media managers are taking over, but old systems still prevail.

- News gathering is getting deeper in technology but content presentation is becoming shallower.

- Education levels are rising but editorial standards are falling.

Time for self-reflection and evaluation is long overdue for the country's traditional media.


And yes. It won't hurt to also get spellings right!








Thursday, 13 July 2017

NEWS SLANT, SKEWED OBJECTIVITY AND PRETENTIOUS PRESS NEUTRALITY

Biases in media coverage can be subtle. They can also be very blatant. During this electioneering period in Kenya, the press is trying to project some semblance of balance, in the coverage of various political camps. But such pretentious neutrality becomes evident, once in a while. The news slant translates to skewed objectivity.


Notice how similar disruptions in two campaign rallies were accorded different headlines in the two leading dailies in Kenya.

Each paper appears keen to limit embarrassing it's 'preferred' presidential candidate.

In other words, one paper gets to be nice to the political establishment, and very liberal in giving prominence to negative aspects of the opposition.

And the other dishes the reverse treatment across the political divide.

So, it's like the country's main dailies have entered an election coverage pact, either between themselves, or with their political affiliates.

It will be interesting to find out if the dividends of this arrangement are political or purely commercial!




Thursday, 6 July 2017

TV INTERVIEWS: ELITES NON-INTEREST & FIDELITY TO PUBLIC INTEREST

Objectivity. Impartiality. Neutrality. Balance. These are words that media practitioners will be harshly judged against, as Kenyans navigates this year's electioneering period. That's why journalists ought to be aligned more with the needs of the public, than for politicians. Fidelity to the public interest should override non-interests of elites, in TV political interviews.


And so it becomes quite challenging to satisfactorily interrogate politicians, and associated political players on TV, especially, for the benefit of the watching public, a good chunk of whom are potential voters.

There's a very slim chance of getting approval across the various political divides, and the odds against journalists are multiplied by plenty of malevolent critics, who probably are adding their own prejudices or biases, and thus subtracting from the overall value of the engagement.

So, the chorus of disapprovals after every other TV interview or debate, where the interviewers or moderators get a serious bashing because of perceived 'media sins' of omission or commission, should be cognizant of the difficulties of serving competing interests that journalists have to routinely contend with.

In any case, is it better for the interviewer to exhibit great understanding of topical issues backed by solid research, to please his or her peers, or the elites in society, for that 'coveted' stamp of approval, but fail to resonate with many more who are not as knowledgeable?

Or should an interviewer demonstrate some level of ignorance, so as to represent the likely average grasp of the issues amongst members of the audience, to better help enlighten them, by having everything simplified?

I'm certainly not the best media informer, but in these two scenarios, I distance myself from the former.