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How awe of the big man kills quality of journalism

The Standard told a story in September of how a young journalist broke down and cried while interviewing the President. Why? Because the journalist “couldn’t believe” he was actually interviewing the President. Aah?

Politicians, especially those full of a false sense of importance, know this effect only too well. And it affects the quality of journalism. Badly.

“Young journalist who cried while interviewing President Uhuru Kenyatta identified,” said the headline of the September 21 story by Ishaq Jumbe.

 The journalist, Dennis Mudi of MK TV channel, had been caught on video, mic in hand, the President beside him, while the world collapsed around the 20-year old reporter.

The Standard reported that Mudi owned up on why he cried. He was overwhelmed by the presence of the head of state and could not contain his emotions.

 Preceding events actually supported this outcome.

Mudi had travelled from Kakamega to interview Mombasa’s small traders, madafu and kachiri sellers, for his MK TV show, “Hustle mtaani.” The President was in town on what The Standard described as a low-key visit closed to most journalists.

It was 6:30pm on the Kenyan coastline. The President, in blending ordinary wear – a rugby polo shirt and a dark cap – is reported to have been mingling with small traders at the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park when he noticed that a journalist was giving the local traders a platform. The President was apparently impressed. He broke away, approached the journalist and offered him an exclusive interview on the spot.

And that was just too much for poor Mudi. He broke down.

“So, guys, I have a guest who is President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta,” Mudi started rambling. “It’s unbelievable, Ooohh My God (sigh)” he says repeating in a video that would go viral on social media. “I am so very thankful.” Sob, sob. Complete meltdown. Loud wail.

The video shows Mudi then collapsing into the President’s chest while still rambling, mic in hand. The President takes it all in his stride, smiles and nods as he pats Mudi’s back reassuringly.

 And that’s how a newsman became the news.

Ok, that may have been over the top. It’s a case of a novice reporter who is way in over his head. The sudden appearance of the head of state in front of your mic, when you probably haven’t gotten around to even interview mwenye kiti wa nyumba kumi, would completely throw one into the deep.

But novice or not, media is full of reporters who tremble at the sight of the “big man” – a Member of Parliament, a senator, governor. Politicians can smell fear a kilometre away. They’ll turn such reporters into mincemeat.

When reporters approach elected officials with O-my-God trepidation instead of professional assuredness, officials will approach the scene like it’s 100 percent a favour to reporters. In that moment, the leaders will not see the engagement as duty, being accountable to the public in an audience with a fellow professional doing his job. No, they will treat reporters like gadflies. And journalism will not be served.

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