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Ramp up criticism but dirty campaigns against Nation, Standard must stop

Kenyans are among the most difficult people on the Planet. They will even dispute this point. Achana na sisi, buana. We are only meek as lambs inside a church. But once the prayers are over, wueh, the fireworks erupt right at the church gate. That’s us.

A Reuters global survey last year put us among the top nations in bashing the media. Respondents were asked how often, if at all, they saw or heard people criticising journalists or the news media where they lived.

We hammered 64 per cent ahead of Nigeria (62%) and South Africa (61%). We were found to be more querulous against the media than the United States (58%), France (55%) and the UK (53%). In fact, we outshouted most of Europe, North America, and Asia. In Latin America, only Peru (highest at 71%), Argentina (66%) and Brazil (65%) yelled more at the media than us.

“The news media, as an institution, are integral to much of politics and public life. With this role often comes public criticism. Journalists do not always get the story right and sometimes omit important voices and points of view. In such cases, criticism can be fair and help those interested in fixing mistakes and improving coverage,” the survey’s author Craig T Robertson said.

“Given the influence that many news outlets have, criticism can also be about members of the public holding power to account. On the other hand, this criticism is sometimes unfair and hostile, and can veer into dangerous rhetoric aimed at undermining the free press.”

You must be familiar with ‘Githeri media’, ‘Gazeti ni ya kufunga nyama’ and similar epithets hurled at the media from time to time. Last year, the world was alarmed by the ceaseless insults against the media by senior officials of the Kenya Kwanza administration.

Politics is the mainstay of journalism globally primarily because it is the media’s job to hold power to account, but also because the powerful are adept at using the media for their own agendas. And because politics is competitive and inevitably polarising – people with good brains simply can’t agree on everything about the management of public affairs – the media is often caught in the crossfires of bitter disputations and scheming for power.

Nothing to worry about. It is the ebb and flow of democracy – until such disputes degenerate into intolerance, hate and violence.

Two leading media houses have recently been targeted in aggressive and sustained online attacks clearly meant to tarnish, delegitimise and bully them into silence. The Nation Media Group said the digital warfare started at the end of January when shadowy propagandists launched the hashtag #RIPNationMedia with a fake letter alleging that 600 employees would be declared redundant by April.

Days later, another fake letter surfaced on social media claiming that the ink used to print Nation newspapers could harm readers. The Kenya Bureau of Standards disowned the document.

“This sustained barrage of baseless attacks against NMG as an institution as well as its individual journalists is as baffling as it is unacceptable,” the media house said.

NMG is always open to criticism and has employed an ombudsman to receive and respond publicly to complaints. “Where we have fallen short of our high standards, we have not hesitated to publish clarifications, corrections and apologies as the situation demanded.”

Next on the firing line was the Standard Group. Rumours circulated on social media of an outbreak of a sexually transmitted infection at the media house. Other posts claimed the Standard was being auctioned.

On April 3, the media house issued a statement condemning the dirty campaign against it.

The fact-checking desk at the Media Council of Kenya has remained alert to monitor this wave of attacks against media houses and to promptly debunk the lies.

Media houses are public service institutions protected by the Constitution. They are sacrosanct pillars of our democracy. There would be no democracy to talk about without robust institutions that serve the public interest.

We can disagree and criticise each other from dawn to dusk. That’s us. We emerged tops in the Reuters survey. But scurrilous hate campaigns against media houses are attacks on democracy that are totally unacceptable.

Shame on those faceless and cowardly masterminds of this ultimately failed terrorism and their collaborators! Come out of hiding and state your facts. Challenge the media houses. Point out the errors. Ramp up fierce criticism. Report to the Media Complaints Commission. Sue, even.

We must be a nation of vichwa ngumu but decent people who disagree respectfully.

See you next week!

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