By Joshua Kembero Ogega
I grew up in the 90s or let me put it this way; I learnt to walk and talk in the early 90s. Therefore, I consider myself a 90s kid. My family was a typical middle class family of those days. We were among the few in the village to own a TV set (it was a black and white set). I also had access to newspapers and books very early in my life.
Owning a TV set or having access to a newspaper was akin to being the eyes of the village. I remember my dad used to get his newspapers from Kilgoris Town. The town was 22 kilometres away and considering that the roads were bad, a newspaper sent for in the morning would arrive in the evening and read for the next two or three days before one gained access to the most recent newspaper.
The reason why TV was not considered the best form of media was that we only had access to Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. It was the only TV station then. If you wanted the real happenings in Kenya, you had to get yourself a copy of the Daily Nation or the East African Standard. The Kenyan Times was considered a piece of propaganda paper for the government. My dad would get me a copy of Taifa Leo if I happened to travel with him (This made me a little professor then.)
We also used to listen to a lot BBC, Voice of America and Radio Deutsche Welle. It carried on this habit into my adulthood. I always tuned my car radio to 93.9 FM when in Nairobi. All I know about Sierra Leone’s civil war, the deposing of Mobutu Sese Seko, the marriage of Mandela to Graca Machel and the death of Princess Diana was known at the instance of the happening of these events courtesy of listening to BBC and its ilk.
Media and propaganda
The reason why this was our normal setting was the fact that no one trusted Kenyan radio or TV. It was all about the regime, the roadside declarations made by the regime and Muungano and Kenya Prisons Choir songs. It was all about being patriotic etc. without telling us what, really, the patriotism was all about.
In between the patriotism, we would be treated to safe humor courtesy of Vituko, Vitimbi, and Kinyonga. If you only relied on KBC, you would end up as a brainwashed lot. When I came across George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1984) in my early 20s, I felt like I was reliving the 90s albeit in a work of fiction.
What took me to this period in my short existence are the recent happenings in Kenya. I have said it before that Kenyan media suddenly looks and feels like KBC in private hands. There are very interesting things happening in the country but the media behaves as if they are happening in a far away country. The moment the government promises to protect the right to freedom of media is the moment one ought to realize that Kenyan media has sold itself to diabolical forces.
The country has slowly slid back to the 1980s and 1990s but the media pretends that all is well. We are treated to Ben 10 and Barbie when the country is in deep waters. The media swallows what the state says: hook, line, and sinker.
Freedom of the media
Freedom of media is the freedom to call the kettle black even when it argues that it’s dark coloured. It is the freedom to ask difficult questions even when they make people squirm on their seats.
It is not the freedom to condition our minds with scripted stories because they make us happy and addicted. It’s not the freedom to air dry comedy where state sanctioned scripts are not criticized. It is not the freedom to call in ‘political analysts’ and calling their talk points ‘news’.
It goes beyond the ability to dress up in the latest fashions and holding the latest gadgets when reading news. It’s not about the bottom line.
FYI, most people prefer expensive subscription when they feel that media houses selling that subscription are independent even when that independence denies them state agencies’ advertisements.
Media houses will discover that it’s too late to change tack when they will realize that their freedom of expression has been threatened courtesy of their dalliance with the state. To remind them, article 34 of the Constitution did not exist because the government protected the right to freedom of media and expression.
Meanwhile, let me tune to whatever I feel gives me non-scripted news.