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Media giving unnecessary airtime to politicians

This week’s headlines have been fairly predictable. Ababu Namwamba this, New Ford-Kenya that! At the opening of the bulletin you would think there’s news worth stopping the press for only to hear a politician promising a tsunami you wonder what is new in that.

The news anchor approaches the story with a sense of urgency in her tone but at the end you realise that you have heard the story over and over again before. This begs the question; who are the major players in the development of our society? Politicians? Businesspeople? Academics? Civil servants? And how do the performance of these groups of people affect the society’s evolution?

It would be pretentious to suggest that politicians do not matter and that all their utterances are mere noise. Politicians do matter as do business people, academics, state mandarins and the whole lot of the public entrusted with contributing to social improvement. But these players, whatever shade of society they come from, are not equal.

Some make pronouncements and engage in acts that have a greater bearing on society than others. But while some pronouncements of politicians make sense—though really—it is important to recognise that not all are equal.

Some, certainly, control constituencies that are way bigger and pivotal to the country’s politics, hence wield some considerable political muscle. But there are others, obsessed with their images in the mirror, and tend to believe they are more important than they really are.

It is this difference that Kenyan media have seemingly failed to grasp and treated nearly every politician as if their pronouncements, nay, mere public appearance is a matter of such great importance. This week, and for days to come until the next elections, the media are likely to treat us to unending stories of politicians making all manner of moves as if the shift are the defining moments in Kenya’s history.

The reality, however, is that politicians—especially those seeking attention—need the media to help them curve space in the national politics. The big question then is; why do the media oblige them? It has been said that stories that focus on the improved welfare of the nation seldom appeal to media audience.

There is also the perception that Kenyans are interested only in politics. But nothing could be further from the truth. Political stories are easy to tell and provide good images and action. The picture of thousands upon thousands of citizens craning their necks to see some politicians is drama indeed.

Compare that with an environment story that takes time to build and has no dramatic pictures in the immediate. Yet the importance of the latter story may not be gainsaid. It appears that the media training may have taken the easy path, and even trained journalists revel in the easy path and have fed their audiences on the same menu without a choice only to turn around to say that is what the audience want.

The media have a contribution to make in society but only through deliberate choice. Granted, politicians may be a great attraction, but if those politicians were to be scrutinised, few of them would desire to be constantly in the public space.

If the deliberateness and detail that other stories require was to be directed towards the politicians it is possible that a majority of them would find the media unattractive and pave space for more attention worthy content.

That probably is where the media need to direct our attention – not just to report politicians, but to report politicians more deliberately and not shying away from labeling those who may deserve labels.

That calls for analysis and contextualisation of stories. The public, accustomed to detailed analysis, would then most likely entertain equally focused analysis and reportage of other stories. The media houses may not be willing to change now, but change they will in not too distant a future. The writer is Dean, School of Communications, Language and Performing Arts at Daystar University

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