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Safari ya Nyota: Did NTV set out to promote Pastor Ezekiel?

On July 27, NTV aired a documentary, Safari ya Nyota, on the life and times of Pastor Ezekiel Odero in its 7pm news bulletin. The 37-minute video traces Odero’s beginnings in Rusinga Island in Homa Bay county, where we are told he experienced extreme poverty. He later became a fisherman, helping his father even as he struggled with education.

Later, Odero proceeded to Miwani Secondary School. He would later move to Nairobi, where he would meet Pastor Pius Muiru of the Maximum Miracle Centre. He joined the church, giving it all his heart and soul and entertaining worshippers with his fingers on the keyboard. His stars were already aligned for greater things – wealth in the name of miracles.

But that’s not what NTV is telling us.

In the wake of Shakahola deaths, which are now more than 400 at the time of writing, religion as an institution has come into sharp focus.

Pastor Paul Mackenzie – a man who also started out modestly, like Odero – is at the centre of the tragedy, where it is alleged, he asked his followers to starve to death in order to meet Jesus. Traces of the religious cult hit the headlines in April, which later unravelled into shock and grief as scores of families from different parts of the country came forward to report their missing relatives.

The NTV documentary was able to link the Shakahola incident and the arrest of the televangelist who heads the Kilifi-based New Life Prayer Centre and Church. The video has meticulous storytelling in flowery Kiswahili that unpacks a lot that otherwise would have remained unknown about Odero and his ‘life-changing’ miracles.

However, the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya is categorically clear on the issues of independence and integrity. Journalists are urged to “(c) Determine news content solely through editorial judgment and not the result of outside influence.”

This means “Journalists shall present news with integrity and…avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest, and respect the … intelligence of the audience…”

Safari ya Nyota contravenes these fundamental tenets.

Despite criticism against religious leaders accused of lying to their followers about miracles that can cure serious illnesses like cancer and kidney failure, the documentary still fails to critically question the testimonies of Odero’s followers that their relatives had been healed through prayers and miracles.

The testimonies were taken as gospel truth despite science and common sense debunking and disputing miracles. A man from Meru, whose mother is battling diabetes, confesses in the video that he would rather take her to the pastor for healing instead of wasting money on hospitals. The man’s justification? People with cancer have been healed by the pastor.

At this point, one expects the reporter to probe further into this questionable testimony. Like, talk to the real patients who have been ‘healed.’ Or ask Odero exactly how his magical water manages to treat people with cancer, who often need rounds of chemotherapy (sometimes lasting up to two years) to kill cancerous cells before embarking on other treatments like surgery and radiotherapy. No, the reporter simply moves to the next scene, where we encounter more shocking and ridiculous testimonies.

NTV essentially fails to offer a disclaimer to its audience that Safari ya Nyota is a promotional video. Instead of using the documentary to educate and inform its audience about the shortcomings of religion, like they earlier did with the exposé on Pastor Kanyari, there is only worship and praise for Odero.

At a time the government has formed a task force to investigate religious activities that have left a trail of tragedy and agony across the country, it is imperative for the media to be at the forefront of exposing fake pastors and preachers. This involves putting them to task to explain the exact nature of their ‘miracles’.

More importantly, NTV ought to have used the documentary to highlight the economic cost to society of manipulative preachers who take advantage of poor people’s ignorance and naivety in order to afford themselves big mansions, fat bank accounts and luxury cars.

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