If you feel a news story does not measure up to expected journalistic standards, bring it to the Journalism Dry Cleaner. Through our collective wisdom, we will strip it of all offensive dirt.




Thursday, 31 December 2009


As the world ushers in a brand new decade, sirens are blaring at the back of my mind. I am now stepping into the half-way mark of my third decade. It has been a whirlwind learning process.

Am I scared, in shock, worried, puzzled, regretful, apologetic, re-energized, uplifted, thankful, honoured, content, confused, bemused or amused, confounded or dumbfounded?

Yes. I have all these and many more conflicting feelings about where I am now in my life, where I am coming from and where I am headed.

But I have loved and I have been loved back. I have triumphed and I have failed miserably. I have hurt people but I have also consoled many others.

I've been right and I have been left with serious consequences after making wrong decisions. I have aspired and perspired, and I have also inspired.

I have lied and confessed and I have cheated and gotten well treated. I have paid in kindness and I have been repaid in madness.

So given a second chance, what would I wish to be different in my life?

Nothing much I guess. But........maybe..........if it's not too much to ask............the learning cycle, could it play out backwards?

Learning school subjects afresh

Now that I have witnessed the long summer days and the long winter nights, seen snow falling from the sky and experienced temperatures in the negative zones, can I have that high school geography lesson on climatic regions?

Having knocked on what used to be the house of Tippu Tip or marvelled at Seyyid Said's spleandour in Zanzibar and seen the centuries-old mango trees that a besotted Sultan imported from India to please his wives, where is that primary school history teacher?

I'm also ready to learn more about the Boston Tea Party, dear high school history teacher, having been to Boston U.S.A's New England and now London in good old England itself.

And because I have a clearer impression of the devastation of the atomic bomb, having visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Japan, can I rewrite my undergraduate Literature seminar paper on Daisaku Ikeda's personal accounts of the atomic bombing victims?

Or better still, having seen the preserved horrors of the Apartheid demolition squads in District 6, in Cape Town, South Africa, can I resubmit my book report on Alex la Guma's, 'A Walk in the Night?'

While still at it, can I now write some primary and secondary school English language compositions about the most exciting place I have been to, now that I have seen the sky-scrapers of Chicago in the U.S., visited the the Bob Marley museum in Kingston Jamaica, laid eyes on the Great Wall of China, waded in the waters of the mighty River Nile in Jinja, Uganda and taken a peek at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany?

And having so toured several countries already, can my high school Aviation Technology teacher now intimidatingly ask the class, 'Who has ever travelled by air?'

Indeed, if horses were wishes, genies would be out of business.


It is that time of the year again when individuals, organizations and even countries get to reflect on their past achievements and failures and usher in future prospects.

Media outlets are now awash with not only what has captured the local and international news agenda in 2009, but also the entire first decade of the 21st century.

The gist of all these flashbacks, which mostly depict where the world has come from, through what turmoil it has endured and what triumphs it has witnessed, is an affirmation of the resilience of the human spirit.

Yet ironically perhaps, one gets the feeling that nothing really much has fundamentally changed as far as human frailties are concerned.

You begin to realize that indeed, time is one inter-related continuum, if you consider that  today is yesterday's tomorrow and today is tomorrow's yesterday,

The past lords over the present and the future 

And whereas what happens today or what will happen tomorrow can never affect or change what happened yesterday, what happened yesterday can still influence what happens today and tomorrow.

A pretty obvious observation but one that is chronically overlooked and which frequently results in valuable opportunities to make amends or take precautions being ignored.

The. U.S. with the world's most sophisticated intelligence gathering apparatus overlooks information in its possession and issues a Visa to a person in its own terrorism watchdog.

And undeterred by the mayhem and bloodshed that they set in motion in 2007/2008, politicians in Kenya are already psychologically preparing their supporters for another round of blood-letting, in the 2012 General Election.

So yes. Make all your New Year resolutions.

But for a better view of the future, take a good look at the past.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009


We were warned. It would take as long as 6 months before your blog gets noticed in the Internet. Tips were handed on how to get a certain G-juice to boost online presence.

An on-going battle that is seldom won was set off, with the sole aim of ensuring readers are not burdened with an opening paragraph of more than 25 words.

And now one absent mindedly finds oneself using the bold function or throwing in a sub-heading here and there as has been found to be most appropriate.

The wait for envisioned fiery discussions, triggered by thought provoking posts, is still ongoing. Comments are earnestly being awaited, with widgets that promised page-loads of blog traffic proving to be not as virile.

Unable to ignore the sagacity of social networking, blog entries were exported to fecund sites, beaming with so-called friends and friends of friends.

Expanding the blog traffic dragnet

Somebody had to take notice of all the portent content being churned meticulously on a routine basis. Armed with the belief that home is the best source of attention charity, links were streamed into the facial pages.

The posts, which metamorphosed into notes, did get noticed. Debates did get started and comments generated. But alas. None of all this coveted action was being channelled back to the blog.

Both overt and covert appeals were made, asking for some of this booking of faces interactivity to be directed at the original site, but to no avail.

So as the parent blog withers from lack of documented attention, the blog-in-law prospers from constant salutations, felicitations and affectations.

Who will stop the losing streak in this win-win situation?


White Hart Lane, Copyright 2009 agachiri
Kenya's '...football heroes live in satellite TV,' according to an article in the Online Daily Nation. The same is perhaps true for other countries in the entire globe, with the exception of USA.

The English Premier League defies rational explanation as to why its popularity has so permeated every corner of the world.

The Independent says hundreds of millions in more than 200 countries tune in to watch teams battle it out for  the Barclays Premier League title.

But that is not to say that the game has anything less than a fanatical following in its home soil. Football here, is likened to a religion with devoted supporters, who constantly cheer their team, whether it is losing or winning.

First hand encounter with lucrative English football
                                           White Hart Lane, Copyright 2009 agachiri
As I arrive at White Hart Lane, home to Tottenham Hotspur, the first thing that hits me is the location of the stadium. Right in the middle of a built up area of residential and business premises. The easy access provided by a dedicated underground tube, railway and bus service is a big plus.

The fans are not your usual sporadic supporters. Most of them hold season's tickets, never mind that it is only in the current year that Tottenham Hotspur are giving a good account of themselves and challenging for top finishes.

The stadium can sit well over 35,000 spectators and because they so regularly attend the matches, so many of the fans are on a first name basis with each other. After all, the season ticket holders get allocated specific seats and are thus match-day neighbours.

If the stadium is nearly always getting to full capacity and a match ticket averages Ksh 5,000, coupled with the massive TV sponsorship deals, you then begin to understand how some football players can be paid more than Ksh 10 million every week.

A single match can yield in excess of Ksh 150 million in ticket sales. And there is also merchandising revenue and hospitality packages. Match tickets for games involving top teams can easily surpass an equivalent of rent money in Nairobi.

English football reflects global diversity

Many clubs in the EPL enlist the services of players from many countries, languages and cultures. It at times amazes pundits that a coach can be able to pass on instruction in such a Biblical Babel-like scenario.

Players in top teams like Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal  or Liverpool can very easily form a UN mini-assembly on their own.

In many matches, you can easily have players from Ivory Coast, Argentina, Brazil, a Spaniard, French, Ghanaian, Dutch, German, Russian, Italian, Nigerian, American, Croatian, South Korean, Cameroonian, Danish, Uruguayan, Bulgarian, Togolese, the British and many other nationalities.

It is as if every country in the world can claim to be represented in the EPL. And even some real owners of the clubs do not hold a British passport. This universality attribute no doubt aides the game's global appeal.

English football aura of majesty
White Hart Lane, Copyright 2009 agachiri

As the Tottenham vs Manchester City game was progressing, I momentarily would be awe-struck, coming from my many years of watching the EPL on television.

It was hard for my mind to process that right there in front of me, were the likes of Robinho, Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor, dueling with Peter Crouch, Aaron Lennon or Jermaine Defoe for scoring honours.

The adrenaline rush as home supporters rise to their feet whenever Tottenham were about to score, the constant singing, cursing and electrifying mood, are some of the facets of the game that get transposed to television sets across the planet.

It is not just about patriotism, which by default, is the cornerstone of many Kenyan football supporters. Here it is about pure passion and love for the beautiful game.

Which serious advertiser would not want to cash in on such a disciplined and highly organized game of football?

Security a top priority in English football

Since the early eighties, when I first  ventured into stadiums to watch a football match in Kenya, never have I seen fans being seriously screened before accessing the venue.                                   
                                      White Hart Lane, Copyright 2009 agachiri

This oversight would consequently lead to all manner of missiles surfacing in the frequent event of there being a dispute.

But in the UK, alcohol is expressly banned from being consumed in the stands and even bottles of any kind have to be discarded before entry is allowed.

Every drink has to be poured into a plastic glass, which event stewards duly supply on request.

The first step in reviving Kenya's football fortunes? Get organized!!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009


Tired of watching snippets of interesting news features on TV? Feeling short-changed by reporters rushing through weighty matters? Annoyed by disjointed news angles?

That is what you are likely to continue experiencing in Kenya, as the mainstream channels contrive to have more and more entertainment oriented programming in their menu.

You can hardly sustain any effort to have news allocated more time if the TV ratings only seem to spike, when certain programmes are on air at certain times.

And when news comes into direct opposition with programming for prime time, the one that brings in more revenue to the station is guaranteed to prevail.

The keen uptake of local productions and the lessons learnt from always insisting on buying ready-made foreign programmes, to save cost, should however not be lost.

But other than concede defeat, news producers should rethink and even rebrand their product so as to continue with the very essential role of engaging the audience in pertinent issues apart from the momentary escapism accorded by entertainment programmes.

The case for news-based documentaries

It hardly makes economic sense for news stations to spend so much money daily, taking reporters and camera crews to various locations to capture stories of the day, only for the end product to be bulletins carrying news stories averaging 1 min 30 seconds each.

Or carrying longer stories only after dropping others, which the station incurred costs pursuing. Moreover, the amount of good footage that is only archived and never gets to be used on the day it is shot, can be both upsetting to the diligent cameraperson and the station's accountant.

Make no mistake about it though. The level of journalistic standards is quite high in the country. So why not put it to good use by facilitating a more robust use of material at the disposal of reporters and news producers?

And a good place to begin could be in the production of in-house news documentaries.

Many viewers have for example been following NTV's Joe Ageyo, in his consistent quest to put environmental issues high up in the public and governments' agenda, both locally and internationally.

Documentaries can sustain audience attention

If Ageyo could be allowed time and resources to produce his characteristic well-researched pieces and have them even in hour-long regular documentaries, chances are they a bound to be big hits.

              Joe Ageyo reporting from the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference

With aggressive marketing, it would not be that impractical to envision advertisers or sponsors wanting to cash in and so the revenue bit to warrant prime time allocation would not be an issue.

Even the often captivating investigative pieces by the likes of Denis Onsarigo, Mustafa Mwalimu, John Allan Namu and Mohammed Ali, could all be woven into spell-binding productions devoid of the rush to air and little time to bring out uncovered issues, that at times characterizes their current work.

I envision Ageyo producing an equivalent of ITV documentaries like Man on Earth that closely follows the history of climate change, or Robert Gichira capturing material fit enough to mirror the likes of BBC's Life, which conveniently is about wildlife.

Of course the level of funding of the UK productions, which compares favourably with the budget of some Kenyan ministries, cannot be expected locally, but such is my faith in our journalistic talent.

South African outfits like SABC have heavily invested in news-based documentaries like Special Assignment, and the results speak for themselves.

Just go through the list of past winners of the CNN Multichoice African Journalist of the Year Awards, in the Television Features category, (Kenya sprung a surprise in 2009).

Monday, 28 December 2009


The congregation of the Alpha and Omega Church in Kingsbury has been challenged to stop being mere consumers of goods. Their pastor wants them to become owners of business enterprises instead.

And the man of cloth says the time to start doing so is from the beginning of the next decade. That means in less than a week's time, when the world ushers in 2010.

How about that for a recession beating sermon?

It surely made an impression on me, especially in light of it being my first time to attend the church.

Admittedly though, seeing my beloved Kenya's flag draped high among those of Israel, Great Britain, Jamaica, Ghana, France, Nigeria and USA, did have me smitten in the very first minutes

Transforming blacks from consumers to producers

Bishop Errol Campbell ingenuously did share some ways of beginning the journey to the land of business ownership, in the opposite direction of consumerism.

He first got the ladies in the church to acknowledge that they, like majority of black women, are worshippers in the alter of weaves and hair extensions.

                    Preview of a movie on the craze for good hair

Then he threw down the gauntlet.

" How many of you actually own enterprises that supply the hair or nail accessories to their fellow black women," or do you all just contribute to the profits of somebody else?" he asked.

Turns out he is right. No one in his congregation had thought of venturing into such or similar line of businesses, where a ready market is ripe for picking

Instead of making the traditional call to those seeking salvation, the Bishop offered to pray for people habouring business ideas. A sizeable number stepped forward meaning the business angle in the sermon made sense.

And some people still feel attending church is a waste of time.

Saturday, 26 December 2009


The world is abuzz again with reports of an attempted terror attack on U.S. soil. The fact that the suspect is from Nigeria, almost automatically, means a heightened scrutiny of Africans at all Western transit points.

To appreciate the import of this situation, you have to bear in mind that under normal circumstances, an African is already a magnet of all diabolic suspicions, when travelling abroad.

And if he also happens to have a name denoting a Muslim connection, then the whole human and electrical alarm systems are set to go off at the slightest perceived provocation.

So, whereas security agents have all the legitimacy to pre-empt any terror threats, their thoroughness often translate into a most intrusive generalization of what or who constitutes a potential security scare.

Profile of the terror attacker

Initial reports indicate that the Nigerian terror suspect studied Engineering at the University College London, which almost inevitably will have consequences on Africans studying in London.

That is a frightening scenario for me and my fellow students from Africa in the UK. And probably more so for my brothers and sisters from Nigeria.

It has been difficult to film or take pictures in public places for coursework or assignments, with one always being on the lookout for the police, and prepared to account for one's presence and activities, which can easily get one into official records.

The attempted terror attack across the Atlantic portends even tougher times for Africans studying in London. Any interference with class work or even intrusion into our private affairs will be deemed to be validated and flashing our university identification will further serve to reinforce any suspicions.

Wider implications of the attempted terror attack

It is being reported that the Nigerian man at the centre of the latest Al Qaeda terror threat on U.S. interests was on an American intelligence watch-list.

That he was able to acquire a US Visa speaks volumes and how he managed to travel from Lagos, to Amsterdam and being cleared to go to Detroit, also puts into question the efficiency of screening procedures at international airports.

And as a result, body searches have made a comeback, new hand luggage restrictions are in place and other check-in procedures might now contribute to a significant delay before boarding a flight.

But perhaps more importantly to the traveller and student of African origin or adherent of Islam, you are, for now, a constant blink in security radars.

Friday, 25 December 2009


Spare a thought for all your loved ones and let them know how important they are to you.

Spare a thought for your enemies too, wish them well and make an effort to turn them into friends.

Spare a thought for the less fortunate, and try to spread some cheer in their direction.

Spare a thought for the well to do too, they are not immune to pain you know.

Spare a thought for the government, every positive energy is needed to make it work.

Spare  a thought for your creator, you can't afford to be in opposing camps.

Spare a thought for yourself too, without you who will think about the others?

Thursday, 24 December 2009


The cycle of politically instigated tribal animosity appears forever destined to stalk Kenyans if the elected leadership remains hell-bent on preying on the vulnerabilities of a desperate electorate.

The differences in the ODM party are now spilling over to the general populace and perhaps not surprisingly, leaflets have surfaced in the larger Kericho area, threatening members of one community with dire consequences if they don't vacate.

In an awfully familiar pattern, the targeted community happens to be the same one that the Prime minister belongs to, and is a reaction to the concerted efforts of the PM to reclaim the plundered Mau forest, which has not exactly endeared him to the elected leaders of Rift Valley province.

So now the differences in a single political party, could possibly be escalated to spread hatred amongst ethnic blocks, in a country still trying very hard to heal wounds brought about by the 2007 post election violence.

First-hand brush with political hegemony in Kenya

In the last General Election, I happened to have been based in Kericho town, from where I would file results of an ODM sweep in the South Rift region.

As is mandatory, every story I did would be accompanied by a piece to camera that served to establish my actual presence in the area.

Little did I know that this routine bit of my professional duties as a television reporter would be the cause of so much trauma.

When the violence erupted, somebody rethought about the name of the person filing reports to Nairobi, from Kericho, and concluded I was an outsider.

And that person eventually ended up banging at my hotel room door, demanding that I go back to Central Kenya.

Had my employer not hired this helicopter to quickly rescue me and my crew from the deteriorating situation in Kericho then, I'm not sure we would have made it out safely.

The need to contextualize political feuds

When the press then, covers such political fall outs that threaten to interfere with the peaceful co-existence of different ethnic communities it should be necessary to put everything in the right perspective.

In its online edition, the Daily Nation report on a Cabinet minister from the area condemning the attacks does not even draw a correlation between the community being asked to leave and the PM's altercation with a section of Rift Valley legislators.

There is a slight possibility of fanning the tension and alarming  the affected residents but at least they would at least be able to make sense of the origin of their predicament, if they didn't know already.

And by extension, Kenyans can be rallied to oppose the perennial tendency of politicians to use them to settle their own battles of supremacy.

And isn't that what any responsible media should be doing?

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


Chaotic scenes associated with transport systems in developing countries have been playing out across the United Kingdom. And it has to do with what is being referred to as the perfect winter storm.

The snowfall has blanketed other areas in Europe and North America disrupting Christmas travelling plans for thousands of people.

But the UK has particularly soaked in the snow havoc, and the transport system could almost have been brought to a complete halt in the week preceding Christmas, were it not for a much welcomed respite from the foul weather.

Concerns have however been raised about the apparent lack of proper contingency plans to keep the transport sector functioning in the event of extreme wintry conditions.

It's not the first time to snow in the UK

For all its historical grandeur and centuries-old imperialistic conquests that led it to build an empire that span the entire globe, which has made English to be the most widespread of languages, a not so strange snowfall sends Great Britain into a tailspin.

In just a day, as many as 20,000 car breakdowns are reported, the Eurostar service is suspended with thousands of commuters left stranded in Paris and across the English Channel, scheduled flights and train journeys experience massive delays and in some cases total cancellation.

And as a result, the transport and local authorities now stand accused of a lacklustre response to the severe weather disruptions, especially with a very detailed and advanced warning of an approaching Arctic snow-laden cold front.

Had previous experiences with freezing temperatures not sufficiently warranted a blueprint of how to keep the country running in the event of icy weather striking again?

Monday, 21 December 2009


I don't regret to announce the death of Kenyan politics. For over four decades, Kenyan politics has caused misery to ordinary Kenyans and fully deserves its demise.

The departed had been around for far too long. Some of its political power was inherited from its father, brother, sister, husband, uncle, cousin and even neighbour.

While at other times it perfected the art of political metamorphosis, which involved moving back and forth from the opposition to the government and from one political outfit to another but still retaining their selfish interest and opportunistic tags.

After successfully looting from taxpayers, while working in the public sector, some would be members of Kenyan politics sought protection from future prosecution by running for legislative seats, and later masquerading as Honourable Members of Parliament.

Eulogy of Kenyan politics

Their forbearers had laid down these elaborate systems of raiding public coffers, allocation of government land and other state resources, all in the name of serving the public.

Kenyan politics accumulated immense wealth that over the years, which it has been using to influence voters to keep it in vantage grabbing positions.

And to secure its future, powerful members of Kenyan politics formed joint business ventures using ill-gotten riches, and used plum government positions to win lucrative tenders, often inflated many times over to maximize profits.

The late Kenyan politics would routinely allocate itself huge swathes of protected forestland at throwaway prices. It afterwards would sometimes sell them to unsuspecting third parties, who would then bear the losses, when subsequent regimes would want to repossess the forest land.

At other times it would use its evil wisdom to secure valid title deeds to cover the illegal allocations and use them to demand millions of shillings as compensation for returning forestland back to the forest.

Funeral arrangements for Kenyan politics

Friends and relatives are already holding regular meetings to map out strategies of securing votes in the 2012 General Election, even before the burial of Kenyan politics.

All progressive and visionary Kenyans are being asked to seriously consider new and alternative leadership, as the country moans and applauds the death of Kenyan politics.

The remains of Kenyan politics will be interred in the dustbin of insignificant history.

May the ghosts of post election violence continue to haunt and torment it in eternal damnation.

Sunday, 20 December 2009


A new disturbing trend is slowly settling in of American movie producers raiding the African continent for story-lines and then casting Hollywood stars for the lead roles.

The latest is an upcoming biography of Winnie Madikizela Mandela, expected to be played by Jennifer Hudson. This follows Forest Whitaker's role as Idi Amin in the movie, 'The Last King of Scotland. '

There have been talks of another American screen heavyweight, Samuel. L. Jackson assuming the character of Kenyan maritime negotiator Andrew Mwangura, in a planned film on the piracy menace off the coast of Somalia.

The acting talents and critical acclaim of these Hollywood superstars is not in dispute. Although the darkening of Whitaker's skin to approximate the hue of the Ugandan dictator spoke volumes about the inappropriateness of this choice.

What is worrying is the apparent conspiracy by American or other foreign film moguls to identify African stories, spend a considerable amount shooting, which will be recovered many times over in due course, and then almost all the commercial benefits are repatriated to Hollywood.

South African actors' union protest

The Creative Workers Union of South Africa has threatened to mobilize opposition to the Winnie Mandela movie project, if the title role is not handed to an indigenous person.

Their argument is that for such a portrayal of an important figure in their country's history, the main role should not be given to an outsider, however good her acting credentials are.

The underlying feeling is that casting Hudson in the movie amounts to an indictment of perceived shortcomings of South African movie standards and an eventual hindrance to the development of its film industry.

Distorting the African story

Even though movies can at best only be fictional depictions of real-life events or personalities, they still act as a significant repository of history.

If the casting, plot, or setting is portrayed differently, even slightly, there is a risk that the perception of the actual events by future generations, might be contaminated based on the way a past movie had portrayed them.

That is perhaps one reason why some film critics were not exactly thrilled by some aspects of the genocide account in the Hotel Rwanda film, whose lead role was played by another Hollywood import, Don Cheadle.

But I have to wonder whether the South African vexation and protest is sincere. Nobody seemed to care from their side, when movies like the Ghost and the Darkness, were shot in their neighbourhood, instead of the original Kenyan location of Tsavo National Park.

To an extent, how Kenyans felt about South Africans portraying Maasai tribesmen in the movie, is now what the South Africans are feeling, about Hudson playing the role of Winnie Mandela.


Accuracy and factual representation are cardinal pillars of journalism. But broadcast news reports sometimes make use of manipulated footage to convey a particular point across.

Stories abound about how during the days of the repressive Daniel arap Moi regime, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation used to air clips of presidential functions with doctored massive turnouts.

The aim was to depict the public rallies addressed by the then Head of State as having been well attended. So clips of previous mammoth functions, teeming with humanity, would be used as cutaways and those watching would never get the idea that the President's address didn't have that many listeners.

Except for the discerning viewer, who occasionally would wonder why the clip showing the President's close- up, has rain showers and in the next clip showing crowds applauding, it is not raining and there is not a single umbrella in sight.

The make believe world of journalism

But at times, the very nature of television news production especially, necessitates the stage managing of clips. After taping an interview for example, the cameraperson might ask the interviewee to walk from one side to another or pretend they're talking on the telephone or typing something on the computer.

These particular images would come in handy as cutaways for the reporter to bridge between different  interview inserts in the news package.

This piece of magic can nevertheless be ruined by a careless reporter through use of disjointed sequencing. For example, a news subject can be seen making a statement inside a venue, then in the next shot, the person enters a car and it drives off.

And yet the reporter, in the following shot, inserts the same person making another statement in the venue. This sort of editing breaks the rule of natural expectations.

But some situations are a bit tricky, even for the most experienced television news journalist. Say, a Cabinet minister is supposed to attend a function but instead sends his assistant.

The assistant minister then proceeds to read a written speech that would have been delivered by the Minister. In the subsequent news story, the viewer cannot be expected to easily know that the person talking is just reading a speech on behalf of someone else.

In a newspaper article, this fact can be expressly stated and the reference to it made repeatedly by a reader. In an electronic medium, it becomes hard to convey because pictures speak for themselves and even the patient reporter would find it hard to keep reminding the viewer who the points being made should be attributed to.

Black magic of journalism

There are however instances when journalists do go overboard in their search of a desired effect. Take for example a photojournalist, who incites parties to a dispute to get rowdy, confrontational or even square out physically.

This is done in the knowledge that a sure way of getting great photos is by flaming tensions in a conflict and even inducing mayhem.

Apart from this being an unethical and dishonest approach to covering news, it might also endanger somebody's life or result in senseless destruction of property or public peace.

Another example is the infamous scandal of digitally altered photos that initially escaped to scrutiny test at Reuters. Lebanese photojournalist Adnan Hajj found it necessary to enhance the perceived damage caused by an Israel incursion and used Photoshop to literally plant billowing black smoke.

Just like in the 'real' world of magic, any illusion, though not excusable in the eyes of purist journalism school of thoughts, should have clearly defined and well-meaning purposes, with intrinsic value underpinning them.

Friday, 18 December 2009


The essence of any investigative story is to gain new insights into explored or unexplored subjects, with a view to unearthing fresh information that ideally should spur some follow up action.

And any documented reaction is very much part of the original story. That is why editors often will decide to hold onto a story, in order to incorporate all anticipated angles before running it.

There are exceptions of course, like the UK MPs'expense claims story by the Telegraph newspaper. But of importance is the fact that months after the original story ran, it is still a hot subject with numerous subsequent developments, picked up as well by other media outlets worldwide.

That is the quality mark of a good investigative piece. And this primarily arises out careful selection of not only the subject matter but also how it is going to be treated.

Investigative journalism avoids the obvious

If the angles are not properly identifies from the onset, chances are high the piece may not have a big impact and its shelf life in the collective memory of the audience might be quite limited.

Without any doubt, the series by NTV(Kenya) 'The Price of Belief,' was well researched and material meticulously gathered. But when it came to the actual delivery, it lacked the vital punch needed to move the audience.

Stories of how people have been conned by supposed witch-doctors and swindled out of their hard earned possessions or savings  have been around for so long. This familiarity appeared to have almost been oblivious to the reporters and they led the viewer onto a very predictable path. And away from the wow factor.

I for once would have loved to understand why the victims always seem to fall into the same well documented traps. What do psychologists have to say about this tendency? What is the psychological profile of a con artist or would be victim and how does their belief system lend itself to being duped?

Indeed, the victims should not have been treated as innocent people taken advantaged of but should have been pressed further to help the audience understand what was going through their minds as they willingly allowed themselves to be swindled.

Investigative journalism is incisive

The 'Port of Impunity' story on corruption at the Kenyan port of Mombasa, by KTN was spot on, when it came to the attributes of a good investigative piece.

Although graft is a vice much spoken of in Africa, the piece carried a real and refreshing expose of underhand dealings and the subsequent reactions speak volumes about the impact of the story.

Any sensible government should be moved into action by such a damning evidence of malpractice and a message is also sent to would be unscrupulous business people that the truth will one day come to haunt them.

The difference between a good and not so good investigative piece can thus narrow down to the story angles.

But a lot also depends on the subject matter and what supportive evidence is at a reporter's disposal, like pictures, audio/ video recordings or documentation.

However, there have been some concerns that the KTN investigative team itself uses crooked means to obtain information that feeds their stories.

Whether this is a good thing or not will always be debatable.

Thursday, 17 December 2009


Parents in the UK can legally give their children alcohol from the age of five. That's how early the British start cultivating their binge drinking reputation.

The British press have captured a rather interesting debate on the merits and disadvantages of exposing children to alcohol at an early age.

Some parents said making alcohol accessible demystifies it and gets rid of the perception that it is a forbidden pleasure. Making it out of reach, they argue, is what drives teenagers into wanting so badly to partake of it because it glamorises it.

But critics counter by suggesting that once the kids get accustomed to the supposed thrills of alcohol at an early age, then there is no stopping them in their downhill slide towards binge drinking later in life.

In his report, England's Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson warned that half a million children  between the ages of 11 and 15 years are likely to get drunk every month.

The media and alcoholism

Given the facts and arguments for and against exposing children to alcohol during their formative years, how should a responsible media house report on the issue? And does this subject lend itself to an editorial like stand-point or is objectivity and neutrality still an absolute requirement?

I think the fair thing to do would be to capture all arguments but in the end take a stand. Why?

Well, children constitute a special category of news subjects. As such, anything that might jeopardize their future well-being should be pointed out without any fear or compromise.

The effects of alcoholism have been thoroughly documented and it bothers me that this facet could be lost or watered down if the media just play a passive role when reporting on this issue.

It might amount to advocacy journalism but the benefits cannot be gainsaid.

Managing alcoholism information

The downside of this is that a media house might be perceived to be biased towards the moral high ground, which is not necessarily the general view of the audience, especially in a western society.

But I still feel this is a prime example of when to distinguish between, what is in the public interest, and what interests the public.

The bigger picture of the dangers of alcohol abuse should come out clearly despite the hordes of parents still convinced that their children can be safely ushered into the culture of drinking with moderation.

It is however not lost to me that beer manufacturers are among the biggest advertisers and programme sponsors. A media house will be hard put to choose between helping the public make informed alcohol-related choices and risk cutting off a lucrative revenue stream.

However, I am yet to come across any compelling argument against responsible drinking.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Ever tried looking for the latest Kenyan media trends, newspaper circulation figures, TV and radio ratings, or even education levels of journalists? It is quite frustrating.

This is very crucial information to anyone planning to venture into the Kenyan media scene either as an investor, advertiser, journalist, researcher or media scholar.

But sadly, it looks like it's not a priority worthy of regular surveys. How else can one explain the fact that  Internet searches only seem to yields outdated findings that even go back to the seventies?

I marvelled at the way some of my classmates incorporated month-old data in their presentations of the state of the media in their countries. The lack of a rich source of current information clearly came out in my presentation of the Kenyan media situation.

Granted, students from developed countries have a huge advantage in such situations. The media there is almost constantly being studies and surveys are regularly undertaken and published for posterity.

Kenyan media competitive

But that is not to say Kenya lags terribly behind when it comes to media standards. Journalists from this country have made winning international accolades a habitual preoccupation. Media houses have also made big technological strides in news gathering, packaging and delivery.

So why are public and private research firms not keen on undertaking studies that would act as a barometer of the media status and accord comparative assessments with other countries?

After all, the likes of Synovate (Steadman), Infotrack, Strategic Public Relations and Consumer Insight regularly do polls on the country's political scene. And why can't their quarterly findings on TV and radio monitoring be made publicly accessible?

Kenyan media research commercialized

The almost obvious answer that comes to mind is that somebody has to pay for the research. And the one who pays, many a times, gets to dictate how and whether or not the findings get to be disseminated. It is also not unusual for a price tag to be attached to such data.

This perhaps explains why media houses only seem to extol the usefulness of search surveys, when the outcome ranks them favourably. But disturbingly, it also raises the possibility of research results being doctored or skewed in favour of the highest bidder.

It thus ceases to be surprising, when the findings of surveys undertaken at similar times, yield drastically different results. In any case, if a media house commissions an in-house survey and the findings turn out to be so damning, can the same establishment be expected to release that piece of information?

Kenyan media progressive

Such are the sideshows that generally speaking, deny the country an opportunity to interrogate itself, make amends, strengthen or discard unhelpful practises.

Research findings can be negative on the face of it but will always have an overriding capacity to open the eyes and mind to valuable lessons. Established trends can be disproved or reinforced.

The country is also denied an opportunity to share its knowledge, expertise and experiences with the rest of the world. And the Kenyan media for that matter, loses out on riding on a momentum derived from knowing it is on the right track and not far behind the trend-setters.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


On a day I endure the coldest temperature inside a classrrom, in my entire life, the UN weather agency says the past decade could be the warmest in recorded history. Environmental matters can't be easily generalized.

As I trashed the week's garbage, mostly comprising of paper, unedible leftovers and discarded containers or wrappings, my temporary neighbour in the UK, calmly walked past me carrying a 20-inch colour television and dumped it. Environmental matters can't be easily generalized.

Hundreds of media outlets report on the push for green energy like harnessing wind power and adopting electric or hybrid vehicles in place of petrol-fuelled ones. Some media outlets report that all these alternatives need components made from rare earth metals, of which over 90% comes from China, mined in heavily polluting conditions. Environmental matters can't be easily generalized.

Brazil's environmental dilemma

Being the world's 8th largest economy in the world, Brazil has done extremely well in tapping into renewable energy like ethanol and other biofuels. But in the recent past, the country has discovered huge oil deposits and now has to contend with exploiting fossil fuels and producing harmful gas emissions. Environmental matters can't be easily generalized.

While Kenyan Nobel Laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai connects many of Africa's problems with neglecting to protect the environment, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni thinks conservation is a luxury that can't be afforded by poor countries. Environmental matters can't be easily generalized.

Thousands of delegates and journalists gather at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference to chart ways of rescuing the planet from imminent danger. But how much damage do they do to the same planet earth, through their own carbon footprints? Environmental matters can't be easily generalized.

Environmental conservation or commerce

Concerted efforts are continuously made to relocate Nairobi's main dumpsite, away from residential areas. Some forces put up a spirited resistance insisting that would rob them of a means of making a livelihood. Environmental matters can't be easily generalized.

A few rich countries, it is widely accepted, produce the bulk of the harmful green house gases. Developing countries suffer the most from the effects of global warming but are led to believe they can make money from carbon credits. This allows industrialized nations to continue with their harmful CO2 ways, by paying the poor countries shameful amounts, to shoulder the burden of neutralizing the effects of their pollution.

Environmental matters trully, can't be easily generalized. And journalists especially, should not lose sight of this point.

Friday, 4 December 2009


Where should the media draw the line between a private and a public matter, when covering a celebrity's family affairs? If that person happens to be a symbol of great disciplined success, like Tiger Woods, the media would gladly gobble him up. 

After all, such stories rarely get to cross over from the gossip pages in tabloids to the mainstream media . Forget the sword business for a second, if you live by your public image you shall die by your public image, seems destined to be a poignant catchphrase, thanks to the deeds and misdeeds of Tiger Woods.

The media played a big role in creating the Tiger Woods franchise but if there was ever any lesson to be learnt from being constantly in the public limelight, it has always been that the same enthusiasm used to turn people into multi-million dollar brands, is the same if not more than the one going to used to destroy them. That is just how the media works.

Media frenzy on celebrities

And that is just but one of the many reasons why celebrity-hood is fraught with so many dangers. It robes one of the right to live a normal life. The scrutiny noose perpetually gets tighter . Any indication of a moral flaw especially, does not go unchecked or cross-referenced and the punishment for slipping or messing up is dished out mercilessly.

Even the society that you always think would be understanding and forgiving, becomes cold and distant, in times of great personal distress. Your philanthropy and great charities cease to register in the public radar and the only signal registering has to do with your fall from grace.

Media bashing of blacks

But, and a big but for that matter, isn’t it worthy of note that corporate America really relishes opportunities to tear down the stardom of black achievers and smear their reputations, even if some are self-inflicted? From MC Hammer to Mike Tyson, Whitney Houston to O.J. Simpson, Marion Jones to Michael Jackson, and now Tiger Woods.

So who is next? Serena or Venus Williams, Jay Z or Beyonce or is the sight trained on the biggest of possible catches: President Barack Obama?

Bill Clinton survived the Monica Lewinski affair and his wife, the aggrieved woman, is now America's top diplomat. The Clintons somewhat managed to be rehabilitated, in the view of the public. Will the Obamas survive in the unlikely event of one of them transgressing morally?

I have my huge doubts.