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Another kidnap ‘puzzle’? Nah, investigative journalists aren’t doing their job right

A woman was allegedly abducted in a Sh17 billion oil import saga that hit the headlines. When she resurfaced and appeared on TV news, social media “body language experts” laughed out loud that she didn’t look like someone who could import anything worth that mind-blowing sum.

Ann Njeri Njoroge, the businesswoman at the centre of the ownership row over the Sh17bn consignment of diesel, resurfaced yesterday, claiming a four-day kidnap ordeal,” the Daily Nation reported on November 15 (p.1).

In what sounded like a scene from an Olivier Megaton action film, Njoroge narrated her two-day ordeal in the hands of her abductors, whom she claimed [were] police officers” (People Daily, November 15, p.4).

The Standard reported the woman underwent a “120-hour ordeal”, which is five days.

So, four days? Two? Five? Anne Njeri spoke to journalists in Mombasa. If scribes listening to one woman cannot get right this basic point of her story, why should anyone believe the rest of the details in the reportage?

It gets worse. Who, really, is this woman?

Sharp-witted reporters with extensive and reliable contacts within the oil industry would have had no difficulty telling Kenyans on Day 1 whether the “little-known” Njeri was in the oil business or not.

But – as it has become the norm whenever a big story breaks – the media got busy relaying to the public what everyone was saying, instead of finding out the truth.

It is disappointing that the best you ever get from the media in controversial stories of huge public interest are weepy accounts from the alleged victims, their families, friends and lawyers, and denials by government. After a few days the story is forgotten. No one attempts to get to the bottom of these incidents.

Was Anne Njeri kidnapped? A lot of people have claimed to have been whisked away by unknown abductors, sometimes suspected to be security agents. It was Anne Njeri last week and Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja’s aide Osman Khalif.

Sugar mogul Jaswant Rai was allegedly abducted in August. The following month former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga made a similar claim. Ethiopian businessman Samson Teklemichael who went missing in November 2021 has never been found. So is prominent security expert Mwenda Mbijiwe who was reported missing in June that year. Just before Christmas the same year, digital strategist Dennis Itumbi alleged being kidnapped.

The truth about what exactly happened in these and similar cases has never been unearthed. Why?

Of course, the perpetrators of kidnaps – when they truly happen – would do everything to suppress the truth. But society’s watchdog can’t whimper away, tail stuck between the legs in defeat, telling Kenyans, “Sorry, we can’t find out the truth.”

Why is the media so comfortable to go by one-sided press statements and generic claims made at news conferences? Why don’t journalists go behind the scenes and do the hard work of digging deeper? Why are journalists stuck at reporting about “mystery”, “puzzle”, when their real calling is to unravel these?

If the President says the country loses Sh2 billion daily to corruption, it is not enough to reproduce that claim in news stories. Can we dig up the details of how this money moves and who is involved?

If Deputy President Riggy G says he is making little progress in crushing the cartels strangling the coffee subsector, aren’t there people in his office (or wherever) who can reveal to a tenacious scribe how exactly these faceless economic saboteurs are fighting back? Or how much effort the DP has put in ‘crushing’ the so-called cartels?

If opposition leader Raila Odinga claims that a government-to-government oil deal is a scam, and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichungw’ah dismisses the allegations as hot air, what’s the truth? It is not enough to simply reproduce the claims of both politicians as “news”.

If Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen tells Kenyans lots of money was spent on shoddy renovations at JKIA, what are the facts, figures, dates, names of those involved, and so on?

If…Okay, you catch the drift.

Huku nje people grumble that mainstream media is losing public credibility and relevance because its news content is not much different from social media. Would you fault them?

There are opportunities galore for journalism to stand out from everyday blogging, social media ranting, spin doctoring, PR, sponsored hashtags, and influencer content. But who is rolling up sleeves to do the hard job?

As George Orwell famously stated, “Journalism is printing what someone doesn’t want printed; everything else is public relations.”

See you next week!

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