‘Profiteers’ proves need for investigative journalism

‘Profiteers’ proves need for investigative journalism

Abiud Onyach

Controversy surrounding  ‘The Profiteers’ documentary exposes Kenyan media underbelly

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Early this year when the government went rogue – shutting down key media houses for airing a public rally by the Opposition – the nature of the rally itself notwithstanding – and deporting a Kenyan who obviously went overboard in his political zealotry, I found myself wondering how much of media freedom we really have, especially if it can be taken away at any time without notice.

What really got my attention however, was the public’s reaction. I was flabbergasted to see a good number of Kenyans actually celebrating this unlawful act. In fact, it became a debate on my Facebook wall at the time, with a number of media practitioners telling me, the big media houses (KTN, NTV and Citizen) had it coming and that this act “would teach them a lesson”.

Never mind in this act (cited above) the government broke at least two articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which we ratified as a country and therefore part of our laws. I think with the celebrations of the Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) coming up in December, commemorating the 70 years since the nations of the world committed to respect human rights, there’s a need to reflect on what these rights mean to us (especially media practitioners) and to the government and why it is getting increasingly harder to abide by this document but I digress.

Teaching media a lesson? Case study: profiteers

Firstly, that the Executive arm of government can and should teach the media a “lesson” is quite problematic considering the media is traditionally known as the fourth estate. Secondly, the section of the public that rejoices when the media is shutdown unlawfully is failing to appreciate the democratic steps we have made as a nation. Their behaviour is reminiscent of the Israelites who told Moses their deliverer that they missed the meat, fish and bread they ate in Egypt (Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:5).

The same way the Israelites had gotten used to slavery; sections of Kenyans, it appears still suffer the hangover of the Moi’s 24 year rule; so much so that, some people are now debating whether we need a ‘benevolent dictator’ to enable us efficiently manage our resources. Yet Kenya is not the only one that’s.

It’s also interesting that around this period (media shut down) I had bumped into the work of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist based in Azerbaijan. She had written an informative piece on Al Jazeera under their Journalism Matters project in which she mentioned how criminals support each other more than how journalists do.

I find it important to revisit her work published in May last year and share a few of her insights here because our media houses appear to be unable to upset the powers that be and journalists uncooperative with one another, even as the “criminals” remain very committed to each other’s cause.

Profiteers

For instance, Investigative Journalist, John Allan Namu spent months in Uganda and Kenya investigating the people who profit in the South Sudan war and produced a documentary titled The Profiteers through his independent media house Africa Uncensored. Africa Uncensored isn’t that big a media house infrastructure-wise, he therefore cooperates with established media houses from time to amplify his work across the country.

Interestingly, KTN rescinded on their earlier decision to air the investigative piece barely an hour to the slotted time because it was touching on a high profile individual, by Mr. Namu’s own account. This example helps put into perspective what Journalist Khadija Ismayilova wrote on her article published on Al Jazeera, even though she was talking mostly about the Turkish government collaborating with the Azerbaijan government to punish journalists who attempt to cover either of the governments in a manner not approved by them.

In that piece, Khadija Ismayilova says, “The networks that unite dictators are much stronger than the networks we Journalists create to expose their mismanagement or corruption. Criminals support each other. Authoritarian, corrupt leaders vote for each other in international organisations, to help each other avoid criticism, because they have shared interests”.

Indeed, Kenya like Uganda, which the documentary shows has provided a safe haven for the leaders who profit from the war in South Sudan, ensured the documentary did not air as initially planned courtesy of these connections. Additionally, that Mr. Namu was unable to get a comment from one of the former South Sudan Generals despite going to his house here in Nairobi and giving two weeks’ notice; only for the same individual to appear on a talk show in one of the biggest local media houses and completely disparage the exposé shows how journalists in Kenya don’t cooperate with one another. Our journalist networks are weaker compared to the establishment’s, to loosely paraphrase Khadija Ismayilova,

Profiteers receives impressive online feedback

And while the profiteers got impressive online feedback having opted to use their YouTube channel, a number of Kenyans who are offline missed the eye-opening documentary and therefore a chance to hold their government accountable.

If journalism is to play its much needed role to the public; the stakeholders must begin thinking of ways to protect quality journalism like these brilliant exposés.

Thankfully, there’s a debate around this and a recent media roundtable by Media Focus in Africa got many stakeholders thinking about the media business model and opportunities that can be exploited. That aside, I think time is ripe for a global collaboration for investigative journalism that will go beyond the actual work and also consider collaboration in terms of airing and publishing the findings.

ABIUD ONYACH is a media trainer, communication specialist and resident blogger mzalendo.com

Story courtesy: The Media Observer

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