Why are the Kenyan media protecting Lucy Kibaki?
Why are the Kenyan media protecting Lucy Kibaki?
The state of media freedom in Kenya is worrying. The current government does not support freedom of expression and the media are forced to apply self-censorship in order to survive. This is dangerous to the democracy because it does not encourage rational critical debate, instead it perpetuates the culture of spiral of conspiracy. Writes Clifford Derrick
The connective tissue of democracy
The press in any liberal democracy like in Kenya is the connective tissue of democracy and can only serve its democratic function if the executive recognises its role in enhancing free public deliberation on important issues affecting the society.
It did not come as a surprise when the Kenya today 11th of November 2007, decided to shelve the Kenyan First Lady Lucy Kibaki from naming her as the person who slapped Mrs. Charity Ngilu at the State House. This is a topical issue because the country will soon elect their leaders whom they will trust with power to lead them. These leaders must be people of integrity, character and sound mind. They must also be people that can exercise control and restrain.
Kenyan government: a bedroom affair
Ngilu alleged in a political function in Eldoret yesterday that Kenyan government is being run from the presidents’ bedroom. She said that President Mwai Kibaki has no control and power over decision that he is making on governance. Ngilu was clear that the Kenyan First Lady Mrs. Lucy Kibaki calls the shots and this, she explained was the reason for the incongruous manner in which the current administration has been operating. Ngilu said that the First Lady had usurped the presidential powers and privileges and was misusing them to intimidate the public including ministers.
Kibaki slapped Ngilu
Ngilu narrated how she once received a presidential slap at state house during a meeting with Kibaki. Though she clearly named her assailant as Lucy Kibaki, the fact that the Kenyan media censored this bit by declining to name the Mrs Kibaki was telling.
Media failing in the public interest
By shielding Lucy Kibaki from being scrutinised by the public especially at this crucial time of the general election, the media is failing to perform its democratic duty to the public. One wonders why this time around, the media unilaterally decided to ignore Ngilu on her revelation of her tribulation while serving under Lucy Kibaki. What is it that the media is afraid of that they do not want the public to know about the First Lady? Why should she receive such protection yet her actions and decisions affects the lives of many Kenyans, going by Ngilu’s account?
Normative roles of the press
One of the normative roles of the media is to inform the public about the activities of those in power or those who are seeking power so that the public can scrutinise them and make informed decisions and choices whether they can be truste with power.
It is fascinating to note, from the conduct of the Kenyan media that they seem to ignore the naked truth that the Kenyan First Lady can not be trusted with power because she gets drunk with it and can not exercise self-restraint, which is a prerequisite for those with power. The media have all the records to back this open secret because they themselves have tested her wrath.
There is a worrying trend taking place in the Kenyan media that if not checked, the hard-fought freedom of the press in the country may soon be lost to the powers that be in that country. When Lucy slapped me and went ahead to destroy my camera on the night of May 2nd 2005, I received support from the Kenyan media who encouraged me to take legal action should the First lady refuse to publicly apologise for the humiliation, embarrassment and inconvenience I suffered. Two months down the line, in July 2005, almost all the media that were supporting my resolve had changed their mind all of sudden.
None of the Kenyan media was interested in reporting my predicaments in the hands of state security and powerful ministers who were intimidating me with serious consequences if I decline to unconditionally withdraw my case against Mrs. Kibaki.
I remember reporting several incidences where I was attacked in my house or on the street, by people I had no doubt t have been state urgent.
Though I was lucky to have escaped with minor injuries, I recorded the statement with the Kenyan police and reported the incidences to the Kenyan media but just as police never bothered to carry out investigations, the media never published any of the incidences, same as the Kenyan human rights commission whom I complained to as well. Of course the Kenyan judicial system is also skewed towards the presidency and could not be trusted owing to the manner they handled my case against the First Lady.
Media to go slow
Interestingly, after fleeing the country, one of the senior Kenyan journalists with Nation media group confided to me that my former company prevailed upon them in one of the Media Owners meeting to go slow on my case because the government was threatening to revive the many pending litigations against the company in court. He also said that the Standard group feared that the government would stop advertising with them.
Spiral of conspiracy to silence
This trend is therefore perpetuating the spiral of conspiracy of silence in the media and it is done in a number of ways. The first one is by physical intimidation like my attack and that of the Standard Group. Individuals obsessed with power like Lucy Kibaki can simply walk into the newsroom, confisticate the cameras and assault journalists without fear of being arrested and taken to court. They have succeeded in doing this and the watchdog responded by coiling their tail. To prove that they could even move a step further, they hired Armenians to train the Kenyan police on how to deal with the vigilant and the noisiest dogs, and it came to pass when the Standard was raided on the 3rd of March 2006.
The second step is threatening to revive libel action pending in court should the dog continue to pope its nose in forbidden pots where the big looters deep their hands. I understand that this method is working and poses a major threat to some media who may wind up if the government decided to revive all the libel cases they have against them.
Mrs Kibaki’s threat to the media
Of course Lucy recently gave a stern warning to the media that come January next year – God forbids if they manage to successfully rig the election and come to power- she will not pay another visit because, I am glad at least she has noted it was rather embarrassing but she will use the court. One knows what she means by that statement when the entire judiciary is occupied by members of the same Kikuyu tribe. This time around it will comprise of her entire family, live a lone tribe.
Starving the dog
The third method the Kibaki government use to perpetuate the spiral of conspirancy to silence is by denying the dog his food. By threatening to withhold government advertisement, the government knows that the media can not survive and must tow the line. Interestingly, members of this government do not only have control of the government advertisement revenue, they are also among the few rich members of this small economy. They also have influence to the few rich looters from the previous government. Their word is final and they can decide to make or break a media organisation. This explains why Ngilu’s sentiments that were meant to rub the First Lady the wrong way could not see the light of the day and had to be cut to sizes. In fact, some media houses like Nation Media did not even mention it.
The way forward
This trend is risky and must be checked. But the most important thing is that media must fight hard to remove this government so that they may have a new beginning and a new covenant with the new government. Part of the covenant must be a memorandum of understanding that the government will recognise the important role the media plays in promoting democracy in the country.