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Missed chances in Obinna’s interview with Miguna

Miguna Miguna, the self-declared National Resistance Movement general, can be a lightning rod. He’s ferocious, combative and delightfully articulate, a character trait that borders on arrogance. The former adviser to Raila Odinga is known for his no-holds-barred approach to debates: unleashing stinging facts and truths against his opponents, deploying his elephant memory to remind a rival of past misdeeds and using that as an opportunity to humiliate. Interviewing Miguna is akin to a gunfight. You don’t carry a knife.

Miguna, loved and loathed in equal measure, can be a divisive figure. In the aftermath of his video interviews, his opponents – a majority of them political – are often compelled to respond in one way or another (through a statement claiming to distance themselves from what they claim to be his unchecked hubris, threatening a lawsuit, or simply dismissing him as a rambling madman seeking cheap publicity). In a nutshell, the ‘general’ is good for the media business.

A media house interviewing such a personality is hitting two birds with one stone. First, the viewers are sure to get informed (Miguna is fabulously well-read and painstakingly does his homework before appearing on screen) and entertained (his poetic turns of phrase are phenomena to behold). Controversy sells and the Canadian-educated advocate is known for dishing out controversy. Controversy is also about trending on social media, which is a perfect opportunity for any news organisation keen to attract viewers.

Thus, it was disappointing when Miguna’s latest interview on Obinna Live Show (May 6), failed to live up to its billing as “explosive” and giving viewers “nothing but the truth”.

Streamed live on YouTube, the show is among hundreds of digital media platforms that have emerged thanks to the internet. Millennials and Generation Zs, some of whom increasingly feel marginalised by the mainstream media, now use their smartphones and readily available high-resolution cameras to set up their newsrooms. A cost-effective approach compared to a full-fledged media house, this new generation of journalists, also dabbling as content creators, is keen to take control of their narratives.

These groups do not seek permission to tell stories. They are constantly learning on the job and are acutely aware of the dangers of self-censorship in legacy media. Despite their many shortcomings, this new breed of journalists is fiercely brave and hungry for success. They take their audiences extremely seriously and are reimagining the media landscape as we know it.

However, Obinna’s inadequate preparedness in the Miguna interview confirmed the charge that alternative media platforms can also be purveyors of misinformation. It’s not just a traditional media problem.

There are certain cardinal rules for conducting an interview – whether one operates in the mainstream or digital space. The first is to conduct background research on the news subject (who he is, his ideological and political orientation, how he responds to questions: is he always evasive? Is he forthright? Is he prone to deviating from the topic of discussion?) Answering some of these questions enables the interviewer to build a rough profile of the guest, which inevitably sets the tone for the interview.

Second is research on the subject – (what questions to ask, how to ask them, when to change tack during the interview, when to interject mid-answer if the guest is making claims without evidence and when to ask a question several times to get a satisfactory answer).

A keen observation of Obinna’s more than two-hour interview with Miguna, which has been viewed almost 700,000 times on YouTube, clearly shows most of these journalistic rules were ignored. The interviewer, for example, set the tone of the interview from a point of timidity, ruining what otherwise would have been a compelling conversation on politics, devolution, bad governance, poverty, history and social media wars, among other pressing issues scantily addressed by legacy media.

Instead, most of what viewers got was Miguna’s extended monologues, which are such a delight to hear (he’s vastly well-informed), but which can also be outright misleading. These pitfalls can be avoided only if the interviewer is adequately prepared, unless he wants to look foolish and ignorant. In this case, Obinna chose the latter.

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