Criticise Fourth Estate positively for growth

Friday, September 16th, 2022 02:13 | By
Media studio. PHOTO/File

It has become fashionable to call Kenyan media names. One of those now famous names is githeri media. The fact that immediate former President Uhuru Kenyatta once said that newspapers are good for wrapping meat is these days bandied about by some as confirmation of the uselessness of the media.

Some of the more ferocious debasers of media on social platforms are journalists and former journalists. Politicians are not far behind. A common pastime is to point out the shortcomings of the media such as mixed-up pictures, spelling errors, and all manner of miscues. Indeed, when it comes to media then nearly everybody is an expert. A simple mistake is taken up with glee and shared on social media as indicative of the deteriorating standards and rot in media practice.

Obviously, everybody is entitled to their opinion and the right to express it in a country that is assumed to cherish freedom of the press and speech. But it is important to assess what this rabid attack on the integrity of the media could mean to the country in the long term.

Media play a hugely important role in a democracy.  As our history has taught us some of the freedoms we enjoy today would be impossible without the media. The direction Kenya is headed now means that in not-too-distant future the country may have only a token opposition.

That provides opportunity for those in power to run roughshod over the country. Without an institution to call out the excesses of the government there is no telling which direction the country could take.

The religious legions, it appears, is being coopted into the state. The civil society is too splintered, overly subscribes to self-interest to be of much use in advocating for the common good. That leaves the media in a pole role as a watchdog.

For the media to play this role effectively, it must be viewed to be credible. That media will make mistakes should be seen as a given. The pace of news production is hectic lending itself to easy errors.

Journalists who now lead in the criticism of the media were once in the newsroom and probably committed more grievous errors than they would like to remember. Tempering their criticism would be in order. But there is a more insidious danger of the rabid media criticism.

First, it erodes the credibility of the press in the face of the public. If media loses credibility, then it would be difficult for such an institution that lacks credibility to play the watchdog role with much success.

Runaway criticism further demoralizes the journalists who now ply their trade in the press. It increases a sense of cautious approach to executing their task. Journalists need to feel that their work is appreciated, and particularly by their colleagues, as a motivation to continue working hard.

This rabid criticism of the media further has future negative effects. Upcoming journalists would shy away from desiring to join a craft that is often in the crosshairs of social condemnation.

The long-term loser in all these is society. The media will join other organs of society that are first ceding their platforms to the State and leave a lacuna. It is noteworthy that even with the other organs of society i.e. religious community, civil society and the opposition, the media would still be needed as a public space through which these bodies would express themselves.

The weaknesses in the media aside, criticism do more harm to the media than help it. This is not to say that media should be above criticism. But such criticism must be tempered with the understanding of what they mean to the overall welfare of the media and society.

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