Media must strike right tone in cri**s moments

Friday, March 24th, 2023 02:30 | By
Mainstream media should prepare for disruption
Mainstream media should prepare for disruption. PHOTO/Courtesy

The media ought to rise to the occasion during moments of national crisis. As a country, we are headed there, but in some estimations, we are already there. On Monday, a life was lost during the protests called by Azimio leaders. A young man, a student at Maseno University, was felled on the tarmac by a bullet. There were running battles between protesters and security agents in Nairobi, Kisumu and Kitale.

Across the nation, labour stopped, machines grounded to a halt, transport vehicles mostly remained in parking lots, and children did not go to school. Reports of the day on international media showed scenes of pure mayhem.

Although some public officials estimated the loss at Sh2 billion, it could be higher once the full impact of the protests is assessed. This is more so once the impact on tourism and reputation damage are accounted for. For instance, Gor Mahia’s friendly match against Tanzania’s Azam was called off for fear of insecurity. It is a crisis by any measure.

In the transition of time, Kenya has lost big in the voices of reasonable men and women, big enough to call leaders to order. It is such a long time in the past when religious leaders, seasoned politicians and civil society leading lights would rise up to stand for principle. We have transitioned from a value-laden society to one that thrives in sectarian interest capture.

Voices from behind the television screen parrot sectarian positions in the name of television punditry. The question is whether this is the best we can offer as a country.

The provost of All Saints Cathedral, The Rev Canon Sammy Wainaina, emerges as a one-man army of bipartisan commentary in the current society wrought with bickering. The Catholic Church, with its obvious caution, occasionally chimes in. The media, particularly television, have regular talking heads, often with preset positions to articulate. That may not be problematic when little is at stake. But when everything is at stake, the media must do better.

Both radio and television platforms sit at the heart of national discourse due to their characteristics and national outreach. Kenya has over 200 radio stations covering every inch of this country. Most broadcast in vernacular, establishing a close affinity with their listeners, meaning they can sway the public.

Television is just as powerful. With over 100 of them on the air and appealing to all the listeners’ senses, the capacity of television to stir emotions and draw empathy cannot be underestimated.

The discussion over the role of media in setting the agenda, even if now contested by scholars, still must occupy the centre stage of our conversation concerning the responsibility of the media.

How, then, does the media become responsible? In the choices they make. Who are the guests that they invite to the set? Who are the journalists that lead the discussion in those sets? What is the responsibility that these guests are willing to take? What is the subject of their discussion, and what tone does that take?

Can no three wise men and women be sourced who would be the voices of reason in our moments of crisis instead of the usual “analysts”?

Research on television talking heads finds that the analysts are usually no wiser than any other ordinary man on the streets. Thus, save for taking time, the analysts add no qualitative value to the national conversation.

Journalism is no ordinary job. It is a mission to safeguard society and provide direction that society takes, and thus, it is too important to be left to the usual crowd of analysts. Expert voices would help set the tone and agenda.

— The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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