Monday, April 29, 2013

Broken News

Every newsman worthy of the name desires a scoop. A chance to break the news or catch public officials with their hands in the till. It is why they swarm at the sniff of scandal. It is a chance to make one's name and fortune while providing a public service. So why is Kenyan media not swarming to Garissa?

To be sure, there is more than a hint of scandal there. Following a spate of terror attacks, the government sent in a a high level fact finding mission led by Internal Security permanent secretary Mutea Iringo. What it uncovered was scandalous in itself: a powerful network of business and government officials facilitating an illegal trade in imported and tax-evading goods from Somalia, a trade which was funnelling money to the coffers of the al Shabaab terror group, allowing it to sustain fighters as well as purchase arms and explosives, some of which are used in attacks in Kenya. According to the Daily Nation, while initially the attacks in Garissa were in reaction to Kenya Defence Forces entry into Somalia, the most attacks, including the one at Kwa Chege food parlour which killed 10 people, have been masterminded by local businessmen with the aim of pushing out their competitors. According to one unnamed official, "Almost the entire government team is rotten."

All this is should undoubtedly have investigative journalists smacking their lips and editors dreaming up headlines. And it doesn't stop there. The Iringo mission then proposes an 11-point action plan directed at the police chiefs in the area which included carrying out a massive security operation. This operation is to be run by the same "rotten" government team (the police chief, for example, was not replaced until a week into it and, as the unnamed official quoted above went on to say, Garissa area would be left without an administration in place if radical action was to be taken at a go).

Nonetheless, our ever-vigilant media quickly dubs the operation "an anti-terror crackdown." No questions are asked when not a single individual of the nearly 600 people arrested  is charged with any links to the attacks. When the Daily Nation reports on the arrest of six men described as “high value” suspects, one of them said to be a coordinator of Al-Shabaab activities in the town and the rest his key link-men, but none of them are arraigned in court. When it turns out that the real suspects are actually those running the operation and their friends in the business community. When it is clear that the operation seems to indiscriminately target ethnic Somalis and that none of the businessmen and government officials actually suspected of links to the terror acts are arrested.

Following the failure to catch anyone of note, the media is not even remotely curious when the government then declares that the criminals it seeks have fled to other areas necessitating widening the scope of the operation.

David Kimaiyo, the Inspector General of Police, has said all officers involved would be dismissed and charged in court once investigations are completed. “I’ve sent senior investigators and they are already in Garissa. Once they are through they will provide a list and make recommendations on who should go home but of course with evidence." None of our journalists asks why he would need evidence to arrest police officers but none to arrest citizens.

So how does one explain the silence in the press about all this? Why has it not been on the front pages of every newspaper? The media obviously know what is happening. Are they deliberately downplaying the abuse of citizen's rights and citizens' intelligence because it involves people they do not consider to be real or, in the words of Louis Otieno, "indigenous Kenyans"? Or are they so in thrall of our "awesome" President, as Larry Madowo described him, that they are unable to see the wood for trees?

Or is it, perhaps, that our media, and especially our electronic media, no longer employs newsmen, just entertainers? Perhaps we are the ones who should ask questions when Citizen TV advertises for a news anchor and insists on a photograph of the applicant. When TV news becomes a space where beauty trumps brains and where we are fed on a diet of advertising and entertainment rather than real news. How will we be  able to keep the government in check if we do not know what it is doing? Or has somebody decided that there is no need for the government to be kept in check?

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