A recent headline in Kenya’s Daily Nation screamed, “Do they even care?” referring to three powerful men and the country’s pressing problems, not the least of which is persistent hunger.
Another issue of the same publication highlighted the collapsed mortuary system, the dysfunction of which can be seen in dozens of unclaimed bodies. In both cases, the newspaper stood up for those who shape politics on behalf of the voiceless. At various times when a social condition has been neglected for so long as to weigh on our collective conscience, newspapers in Kenya have intervened with similar force and directness.
These interventions are waking up the fat cats in government offices. Suddenly you see regulators you never knew existed emerging from the woodwork. Without such an editorial board, the fat cats would continue to sleep in their offices or make plans for upcoming job postings while waiting for fat salaries and allowances.
However, the media has also unknowingly encouraged the creation of a culture of bad governance.
First, the media, which marginalizes or marginalizes issues not directly related to politics while giving politicians plenty of space and prime time.
The voices of doctors, teachers and even academics are only heard when they go on strike.
Second, when journalists interview politicians and decision-makers, it is almost impossible to hold them to account. The interview is a way for the policy maker to explain himself.
There are no difficult follow-up questions. No presentation of alternative views by the journalist based on law and history. A case in point was when a senator was caught on camera throwing rocks at opponents. The next morning he was on a prime-time TV talk show, lecturing on all sorts of subjects.
The journalist asked polite questions almost obsequiously and always addressed the stone-thrower as “honourable”. Not once was the senator’s boorish behavior alluded to. The journalist had unwittingly “washed” bad behavior. And similarly, the media scrubbers hate dealers, thieves, and liars.
Such actions contribute to the culture of bad governance, where stealing is okay, or where hate speech and insults are acceptable campaign repertoire.
When the media emphasize other people and other views and experiences, they also promote alternative values.
A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of former political prisoners and human rights organizations in Nairobi. Although all media were invited, the mainstream media did not come. If it had been a gathering of candidates for parliament, the event would have made the headlines.
How will the public understand that politics can be anything other than stone-throwing or hate speech? How do they know that people can make sacrifices for an idea, not for personal but for national gain?
Who will help inculcate a different value system in our governance culture when the media pets criminal elements?
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator