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Thursday, 30 December 2010

MIMICKING HUMAN NATURE: WHEN MEDIA BLOWS HOT AND COLD

Isn't it amazing the way the media blows hot and cold air at the same time? In Kenya, so much had been written about poor families not being able to give their children a decent education. But now that primary education has been made free, the same press is inundated with reports of how the quality of learning in public schools has gone down. What gives, or is the media just mimicking human nature?

The introduction of the Free Primary Education in 2003 was hailed as a milestone for Kenyans, majority of whom had been barely able to put food on the table, let alone paying school fees.

President Kibaki meets Bill Clinton
Both local and international media extolled the then government for initiating what was hoped to be a major element of redressing social inequalities. As a matter of fact, when former US President Bill Clinton was asked to name one person in the world he would like to meet, he said Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki, for this very reason of introducing free primary education.

And so the success story of free primary education for a time, dominated media attention. That is, until the press started awakening to the fact that teachers were overwhelmed by the exponential growth in enrolment, already dilapidated learning institutions were bursting at the seams and the performance of public schools in national examinations was in nose-dive mode.

So 8 year's on, the pioneering class of the free primary education has just received its KCPE exam results and perhaps not surprising, private schools have almost monopolised the top positions in the order of merit.

This trend of the media blowing hot and cold, it however appears, is a global phenomenon. A recent BBC story highlighted the fact that many more Britons were likely to reach the ripe old age of 100. But somewhere in the middle, the tone of the report ceased to be celebratory.

The advance in health care, largely responsible for prolonging the life expectancy in the UK, took a backseat. The dangers of having an ageing population, and questions of who would provide for the millions of pensioners, was thrust to the fore.

So yes. Contradictions abound in the media. But that is just but a reflection of human nature. Never being satisfied is the bane of humanity.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

ROAD ACCIDENTS AND THE CASE FOR ADVOCACY JOURNALISM

In Journalism, opinions should clearly be separated from facts. But what if one's opinion as a journalist, approximates a commonly held truth? This is what was going through my mind as I prepared to do a piece to camera, at the scene of a horrific night time road accident, where I strongly felt there was need for some bit of advocacy journalism.

11 lives had been lost on the spot and 21 other people injured, on account of a very disturbing reason. That the driver of an on-coming vehicle had failed to dim his lights, as he approached the hired school bus carrying 33 Kenyans, returning from bride price negotiations.


It so happened the bus driver was just crossing over a bridge. And on being temporarily blinded by the full lights of the vehicle traveling in the opposite direction, veered of the road, crashed through the bridge's safety barriers and the bus plunged into the the river below.

So in my mind, it is so clear what was the cause of this accident. And as I do my piece to camera, I wind up with the lines:
"Dim those lights. It could save lives."
Initially, this didn't sound right and I was planning not to use the sign-off because it sounded more like I was either sermonizing or getting my personal view into the story. That is until our crew visited the hospital, where some of the injured had been taken.

The sight of the injured in different stages of getting treatment, the screams of a little boy as he was being stitched, even as the father recounted to us the full lights angle, as a possible cause of the accident, convinced me otherwise.

There comes a time, when advocacy journalism, in my opinion, has a place in news reports.


Thursday, 16 December 2010

KENYAN JOURNALISTS BEWARE: YOU'RE NOT IMMUNE FROM IMPUNITY

The list of people, who the International Criminal Court believes have a case to answer with regards to Kenya's 2007 post election violence, is finally out. Three are senior politicians, two are senior civil servants and one, is a journalist. Yes, journalists too are not immune from impunity.


The man in question, Joshua arap Sang, an FM radio Presenter, is said to have used his morning programme to incite people to attack supporters of one of the two main political parties.

But the fact that ICC's Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo singled out a media practitioner is an ominous sign that journalists can and should bear responsibility for their actions, if they go against the spirit of serving the public's interest.

There is no denying the fact that many more journalists remain culpable, guilty of helping to fan the mayhem that characterised Kenya's darkest moments.

It is highly probable that Joshua is just being used to represent the indictment of the entire media in Kenya, with regards to the post poll chaos.

If the KASS FM Presenter gets convicted, nay, even before his case passes through ICC's Pre-trial chamber and summons are issued, journalists should take heed and see it as a major wake up call.

You just don't use your privileged position and ability to influence a mass audience, to propagate ulterior motives, contrary to acceptable media ethics.

And more importantly perhaps, there is no hiding behind or in front of the microphone, camera or keyboard and claiming it is a journalist's duty to just report or provide an account of what is happening.

If it borders on enhancing impunity, then journalists too are not immune from bearing responsibility.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

MONETIZING TALENT: THE BIG MISS OF TUSKER PROJECT FAME

 Uganda's Davis Hillary, TPF 4 Winner, Courtesy Daily Nation
 
Monetizing talent. That perhaps is one area the producers of the just concluded Tusker Projet Fame 4 missed out on. They did pay out a hefty prize money to the winner and a recording contract to boot. But what about organizing concerts featuring the best contestants, or marketing related merchandise?



If reports are true that some people were crying at the show's finale, as the process of unveiling the winner got underway, then it is largely true that such people would have been more that willing to take a piece of the night's highlights with them.

In business terms, this connection with the performers could most certainly have been exploited to derive commercial value.

And here, we are talking about the producers having had had the acumen of ordering posters, T-shirts, caps, among other merchandise or souvenirs, and offered them for sale to the live audience as well as to those following the proceedings on telly.


Moreover, as the show was progressing from the audition stage to the finalists invited to the TPF Academy, and especially this latter stage that lasted eight weeks, the performers were being thrust in the public domain on a daily basis.

It follows then that the millions following the proceedings across the East African region must have developed either strong liking or disdain for certain performers. And to a keen or shrewd mind, therein lies a business opportunity.

A potentially lucrative revenue stream for both the producers and contestants could have opened up if the best of TPF 4 could have been packaged for grand performances in major cities or towns in the region.

X-Factor finalist Olly at Wembley Arena, Copyright Agachiri 2010
I know it is neither fair nor practical to compare such reality shows to what happens in developed countries but that does not mean that lessons cannot be learnt from the likes of the X Factor show in the United Kingdom.

If one momentarily puts aside the often stated poverty levels existing in this part of the world, then the real potential of monetizing the talent on display in TPF becomes clearer, when juxtaposed with how the mega UK show derives huge profits.

Soon after concluding the X Factor TV shows, the most popular acts are paired with the winner and other finalists to headline big shows across the UK, many of which are sold out, and which also act as platforms of selling related merchandise.
Jedward at Wembley Arena, Copyright Agachiri 2010

Can't the TPF producers find ways of organising a musical tour of the finalists and even judges, in various venues across the East African region, at a profit?

It could be a long shot but if the entry tickets are reasonably priced, the legions of fans that have been religiously tuning in, might just warm up to the prospect of paying to get some live action in a town or city near them.


Sunday, 28 November 2010

BOLD JOURNALISM REDEFINED: BBC TO AIR FIFA VOTE SCANDAL DESPITE ENGLAND BIDDING

December 2nd is the day FIFA's Executive Committee votes to decide, who will host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022. England is putting in a strong bid. But what is the BBC's Panorama TV programme featuring, days before that D-Day? The FIFA vote buying scandal that resulted in the suspension of two committee members.

The feeling from especially UK government circles and the 2018 bid team is that the timing of Panorama's investigative piece could harm England's chances by rubbing FIFA the wrong way by revealing how corrupt its systems are.

Wembley Stadium, London: Copyright, Agachiri 2010
Admirably, the management at BBC have opted to stick with the original scheduling despite immense pressure to put emphasis on 'patriotic reporting,' when deciding whether to broadcast the damaging expose.

The consequences can be grave and England might very well lose out on the rights to host the World Cup in 2018 but, and here I side with the BBC and Panorama crew, its about the bigger picture of jealously guarding press freedom.

You do not trade when to expose the truth as a professional journalist and so trying to consider third party opinions would be tantamount to being compromised to begin with.

That is what bold journalism should be all about. It might not be pleasant, but it's the right thing to do ethically.

Monday, 22 November 2010

THE ART OF REGURGITATING NEWS: WHEN ELECTRONIC MEDIA LAG BEHIND NEWSPAPERS

"Dear TV editors, repeating a story that I read in the Sunday Nation is not news." A terse and sharp rebuke from a fellow Kenyan journalist, which perhaps indicates how regurgitating news, often times, has become an art perfected. 

The Sunday Nation newspaper story in focus, was a damning indictment of the country's embattled Water minister, bordering on outright nepotism, when it came to awarding her ministry's lucrative tenders.

Electronic media outlets were beaten to that story by the newspaper and probably not unexpectedly, they immediately jumped on it, hoping to not only make up ground, but also take it forward and break any new angles that day, before the papers take their publications to bed.

Unfortunately, that was not to be, mainly because no media outlet succeeded in getting a response from the minister in question, it being a Sunday, among other reasons.

So anyone tuning in to catch the news that evening and who also had read the day's Sunday Nation, would have rightly wondered why TV stations were screening stale information packaged as news.

As pointed out by the observant journalist, it is even more shameful that the newspaper story was being reproduced word for word, in some instances, for the evening bulletin story.

It however goes to show that the prophets of doom, as far as the future of newspapers is concerned, ought to be a bit more optimistic. I mean, just look at how the Vatican newspaper's story of Pope Benedict's views on using condoms, sent the entire global media into a spin, print, electronic, online, mobile et al.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

KIDNEY FOR LOVE - THE IRONY OF KEEPING A SECRET VIA THE MEDIA

He says he can only get to be with his beloved if they do a formal wedding. And because he cannot afford the attendant costs, he is prepared to sell his kidney. True love may be the case here. But when the kidney for love story gets to the media, the irony becomes apparent.



Delphin Wamalwa says he wants to keep his little, nay enormous arrangement a secret, in so far as his sweetheart is concerned.

But then again he is telling this to the camera, in the full knowledge that his interview will be part of a news story, broadcast to the masses in true mass media fashion.

Chances are extremely high that his beloved will get wind of his plans. Or is this the underlying intention?

You can never tell how far the ingenuity of Kenyans can propel them. The said lover could be moved to the point of withdrawing the 'nuptials or nothing' condition.

Or better still, a well-wisher, like it so often happens, could volunteer to organize a modest or even grand wedding for the couple. Now won't that make Delphin happy, kidney-less or otherwise?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

BUSTED MEDIA ETHICS: THE CASE OF AGNES AND CLASSIC 105 FM




The ingenuity of the concept of setting up cheating spouses on national radio is without doubt amazing. Even entertaining to some or  a justified comeuppance for the two-timing culprits. But to go as far as impersonating a person infected by the HIV virus, amounts to a busted media ethics.

Whether the Classic 105 FM presenter is faking the whole episode in order to catch the startled party is to me besides the point. The fact that HIV/Aids is in reality a much dreaded disease, whose sufferers are exposed to a whole deal of stigma ought to have first called for some sensible analysis before going on air.

Yes. Agnes has been busted and all but made to confess her infidelity. But suppose a person living with the HIV virus was following the proceedings? In other words, the person ailing from HIV gets to hear his or her life-threatening condition being ridiculed.

And by extension, such a person is likely to be exposed to social stigma because HIV is often perceived as a death sentence-like condition and her 'supposed' status is publicly revealed and even broadcast.

Moreover, the acceptable practice is that before one is tested or told of one's HIV status, one is first counseled. You don't just blurt out directly to some one that they may be infected with the virus.

Supposing by some hyperbolical bad luck, the diabolical call to Agnes could have caused her to have a fatal heart attack from shock? Will the station not have been culpable?

Sunday, 31 October 2010

REFRESHINGLY OUTRAGEOUS: THE LOLANI KALU EFFECT

Lolani Kalu is a veteran of the Kenyan media scene. But the way he practices his unique brand of journalism is at times so outrageous. Outrageously refreshing. Refreshingly engaging. Engagingly captivating. I call it the Lolani Kalu effect.





His mastery of the Kiswahili language is second to none and it's a delight to hear him narrate a news story. A delight because his conversational style of delivery simply draws you in.

Lolani is also a performer per excellence and the way he infuses his artistic skills into news stories makes them quite memorable.

But it is his creativity that perhaps stands out. You never know what to expect in a Lolani story, especially one that he is filing from location. 

This fact is best exemplified by a story he has just done on why area residents of Homa Bay County allow their livestock to spend the night in the open, away from homesteads.

What does Lolani Kalu do with this story? He narrates it from the point of view of the animals. The master story-teller cleverly brings out the night-time activities by actually voicing the make-belief thoughts of the various animals.

Now that is what I would like to see more often. Not just thinking out of the box but thinking as if there was no box to begin with.

Monday, 25 October 2010

TRAGEDY IN THE STADIUM: CROWD SAFETY LESSONS FROM THE UK

Seven Kenyan lives have just been carelessly lost. It is highly scandalous that officials allowed a football match to continue, despite the unfolding tragedy in the stadium. Event management needs to be left to professionals, and here, the country can get valuable crowd safety lessons from the UK.

First of all, no major event should be allowed to continue without a set number of safety stewards. Their work is primarily to constantly keep a close watch of the crowd an immediately report to their supervisors any sign of trouble, however minute.

Such is the seriousness within which crowd safety is taken in the UK that this service is regularly outsourced to experienced and professional event management companies.
                                        
                                                                          Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, Copyright, Agachiri 2010
For example, at the Emirates Stadium in North London, home to Arsenal Football Club, the venue managers have their own team of stewards, who are deployed at all strategic places.

And because nothing is left to chance, the stadium management sub-contracts additional services to another event management firm, to ensure maximum crowd control.

So, as tens of thousands of football fans enjoy the match, hundreds of other personnel are monitoring safety-related aspects from inside the stadium, to the immediate external environs, including the car park, as spelt out by legal guidelines.

And every premiership match is categorized according to its inherent safety risks, based on previous crowd behaviours, which also determines the number of police officers deployed to the venue.

Routine Emergency Procedures

Anfield, Copyright Agachiri 2010   
A most admirable trait in the UK is the high level preparedness or alertness that safety stewards and their supervisors have to be put in. As a matter of fact, before any event, stewards are taken through emergency procedures. 
                                                
If anything goes wrong, the safety team knows exactly what to do because emergency procedures have  been rehearsed
                                                                                               
                                                                                              White Hart Lane Before A Match, Copyright Agachiri 2010


And one key element of these crowd safety preparations is the evacuation procedure. Using coded messages, event management officials armed with talk-back radio gadgets, are able communicate fast with each other on the nature and location of any trouble spot.

In Kenya, it is obvious the safety of spectators is not given such importance, because not even the death of fans is enough to prompt a complete evacuation of a stadium.

That more than 30,000 people can be almost abandoned, left under the care of a poorly prepared team of security agents, is in the very least careless and irresponsible.



Match organizers at the ill-fated Gor Mahia versus AFC Leopards clash at the Nyayo National Stadium should be held accountable for endangering the lives of Kenyans in the first place, by not putting in place adequate crowd safety measures.

Putting profits before lives

And to allow the match to continue as people are being rushed to hospitals or the mortuary, whether somebody has paid for it to be broadcast live across the African continent or not, amounts to greed and criminal negligence.

White Hart Lane, Copyright Agachiri 2010

You obviously can't expect the sophisticated crowd control measures and the cost implications that are achievable in a developed country to be replicated in a 'poor' country like Kenya.

The bottom line however, in my view, is that all human lives are precious and should be protected to the best of available capacities.

The UK has had its share of stadium disasters with considerable fatalities but  lessons were learnt and remedial measures taken.

Will Kenya witness another stadium tragedy or will the government take concrete actions to prevent such disasters in the future, including formulation and enforcement of legally binding crowd control regulations?






Saturday, 16 October 2010

COUNTING ON THE COUNTY EDITION

It represents a significant shift in the way news is delivered in Kenya. The philosophy behind it being that with the passage of the new Constitution that is hinged on a devolved system of governance, news too should be devolved. That is why you can count on the County Edition to bring you news coverage from the very grassroot level. 


It's rather unfair and preposterous to assume that the major news stories in Kenya can only come from the capital Nairobi, and yet that for a long time has been the case.

So one gets to be regularly treated with a heavy dosage of news about what the politicians have been up to, either from the comfort of posh offices, homes or even hotels, even if the matter they purport to be addressing affects people in remote constituencies.



So what better way to shift the media focus away from the centre than to dedicate three days every week for a systematic and intensive coverage of other parts of Kenya, as categorized by counties.

There being 47 counties in all, it really leaves no room to have any one region overlooked and subsequently in the long run, untold stories and faces are almost guaranteed of a piece of the media spotlight.

video

Granted, it may appear as if the NTV County Edition  is giving undue time to what appears to be mundane stories that don't necessarily exude national importance type of issues. But that is precisely the point.

The news agenda should not always be prescribed to the audience from media organizations. They too can and ought to be given a chance to articulate what they feel is important to them.

It is high time the media entrenched a culture of listening to what its audience has to say and not just disseminating packaged information, with inherent slants and calculated agendas.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

POLYGAMIST EXTRA-ORDINAIRE: KENYAN MEDIA'S BIG MISS

The number of his wives is estimated at between 100 and 135. His children could number between 210 and 350, the eldest aged over 50, the youngest a mere three months. And soon after crossing the 90-years bracket, the polygamist extra-ordinaire passes away. Why is it that the factoid bit is the one that fascinates the Kenyan media?

The exploits of Acentus Akuku 'Danger' without doubt are not you usual representation of the polygamous nature of many a traditional African man. But truth be told, they are not entirely verifiable.




An astute media establishment would, in my considered opinion, have ventured to break down the facts being thrown 'carelessly' into credible pieces of information.

My curiosity would have greatly been drawn towards attempts to bring out the human face of the reported many wives, however long it could have taken.

It is would have been easy to report about the accounts from this amazing homestead from the point of view of the late Akuku, as many media outlets have been doing over the years.

But the less trodden path, which could very well be adopted for a blockbuster Hollywood-type film, is the day to day experiences of the said many wives, in their own words. Just what drew them to this man Akuku?

Respect for privacy tenets and decency factors notwithstanding, just how did the wives get to have enough attention from the patriarch, in the marital sense?

That is the big miss by Kenyan media, or so I think.

Monday, 27 September 2010

DREAMS SHATTERED, NIGHTMARES USHERED: WHAT INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM IS ALL ABOUT

In very simple terms, 'Dreams and Nightmares' epitomizes what investigative journalism is all about. A critical subject matter, told in a gripping and engaging way.

Without ever betraying any sense of embellishment, the reporter Yassin Juma moves the story beautifully. There is a clear focus as the investigations narrow down to the men behind the human trafficking syndicate.



Unlike many investigative pieces that tend to be too descriptive, perhaps fueled by a false belief by a journalist that the unearthed material can tell the whole story on its own, this one probes for answers as the story unfolds.

Yassin deliberately seeks to make his story take on a life of its own, and only momentarily comes into view to establish himself on the scene. The story after all is not about him.

And the patience taken to fully develop all the emerging angles is admirable. The compelling evidence of human trafficking adduced thus becomes more powerful and a delight to watch as an investigative piece.

It would really be a pity if the concerned authorities ignore the issues raised by 'Dreams and Nightmares' and pretend they don't exist.

Monday, 20 September 2010

A MULTIPLE MULTIMEDIA REALITY CHECK

I have had great expectations of venturing into the domain of a fully fledged multimedia brand of journalism. I still do but the reality is fast dawning on me that customizing all the online skills I have learned to suit my current job is not that simple.

During my academic sojourn in London, I kept dreaming of grand projects I could implement once I resume my NTV newsroom duties in Kenya. Well, I am here now and the quest of accomplishing my lofty ideas is not coming together as I had envisioned.

For a long time, I had developed a close working relationship with 'Google Search' as I sought to put together websites that would not only satisfy the examiners but also equip me with lifelong digital media skills.

But I find it difficult to now even put together a credible web-based video gallery, quite humbled technically, by the amount of coding I have to do, even with the Google-aided assistance.

But that is not to say the challenges are not surmountable. Only that I need to redouble my efforts and dedication to the multimedia cause.

This is where perhaps the sagacity of appealing to the wisdom of the crowd could come through for me. I am not giving up. I will deliver my targets as per the briefs I get and will once look back and ask:

 "How daft was I?"

Sunday, 12 September 2010

WHEN JOURNALISM ROBS CHILDREN OF THEIR INNOCENCE

Fire guts a number of houses in one of Nairobi's biggest slums. The cause of the blaze according to one Kenyan TV station report: two women fighting over a man, based on an eyewitness account of a pre-teenage looking boy.

Now there is something just terribly unethical about this particular news story. And it all has to do with the choice of person to interview.

How do you subject a minor to attempt to explain how two fully grown women, earlier identified as commercial sex workers, fought over a male client and one subsequently getting enraged and setting fire to one structure, leading to the blaze?

As if that is not a big enough media ethics transgression, the interview of the small boy is aired as part of the story, with no attempt made whatsoever at concealing the minor's identity, unhelpful as it may also be.

Call me prudish, but that is just shameful, a blatant violation of the absolute privacy accorded to children and tantamount to abetting the moral corruption of a minor's innocence.

What well-trained journalists do is at times think beyond the actual substance of the news stories they are covering. Are there other grave implications, especially when dealing with children?

Would leaving the boy's interview out of this particular story have diluted the understanding of the possible cause of the fire? I most certainly think not.

NB
Another unrelated but also irksome gaffe was the obvious display of one newish  TV journalist's lack of understanding of Kenya's devolved system of governance, during a live newsfeed.

Starting out in the electronic media has its immense challenges, and I did have my share of journalistic mishaps and still continue to humanly err, but care must be always taken to avoid making too elementary of mistakes.

Friday, 3 September 2010

REMAINING TRUE TO THE JOURNALISM CALLING: THE CASE OF 'THE SMUGGLERS OF MEN'

Investigative journalism is a major beacon at the heart of the watchdog role of the media. Television cameras often present viewers with compelling evidence of wrongdoing. But does that permit journalists to abuse their privileged position as they go about their business?

There's probably no way of setting ethical rules cast in stone because different circumstances dictate dissimilar approaches and various justifications can be advanced for any editorial decision.

It however comes dangerously close to crossing the professionalism line, when journalists assign themselves certain roles beyond their calling.

A case in point is when the reporters in the latest KTN Inside Story series, almost appear to wield arresting powers, usually associated with law enforcement agencies, as they seek to give their expose a dramatic twist.



Yes. The subjects might very well be illegal immigrants being smuggled into Kenya, but at what point does a journalist depart from pursuing the news elements, to unilaterally attempting to make a citizen's arrest?

In my estimation, which definitely stands to be corrected, it is unusual and a bit preposterous for a reporter to start ordering around the news subject, as the camera is rolling and then include the footage as part of the story.

It even gets more absurd, when the journalists finally just watch as the 'aliens' walk away, perhaps after realising that without police or immigration officers around, it is not in their place to detain them.

And remarkably, the other parts of this captivating series, did include law enforcement agents making such arrests. Is it a case of getting carried away by the thrills of the job? You decide.

Monday, 30 August 2010

OLD MEDIA TRADITIONS: KENYA'S DALLIANCE WITH MULTIMEDIA

The one thing I've learnt over the past year during my academic sojourn, is that a more responsive and innovative media stands to gain the most in the competition for audiences and ad-spend. Traditions entrenched in old media practises simply have to pave way for multimedia approaches.

Having had the privilege of studying in a developed country and now in a position to compare what I experienced with what is obtaining in my not so developed country, Kenya, some observations standout.

As journalism practise in the more modernised world races towards full multimedia platforms, Kenya's media landscape appears to be awakening to the possibilities inherent in opening up their services to audience interactivity.

The reasoning for lagging behind has been hinged on low Internet connectivity and limited technical know-how. But broadband has now arrived in the East African shores and the required knowledge can be as close as a Google away.

So now most broadcast stations in Kenya are spotting 'dazzling' sets complete with 3D simulation-filled virtual sets. Call me a naturalists, but it's had for my eyes to find favour in a studio background that looks so far removed from nature, the shine and glitter notwithstanding.


But whereas there appears to be an almost obsessive pursuit of the 'best' technical presentation styles in newscast sets, there is no equal effort being made to conceptualise unique content or story-telling formats, in my opinion.


In any given day, it is almost predictable that the news content across the various channels will be largely similar. And as you switch from one station to the other, the visual assault from the cacophony of colours, awkward, exaggerated camera movements and flickering video-mixing techniques used to fade images in and out is not very pleasant.

The station that re-connects with the 'content is king' maxim will definitely be ahead, when it comes to enriching their news with a multimedia experience for its viewers.

And here, multimedia interactivity means much much more than inviting comments through SMSs or displaying a website link. It's enabling the viewer to choose what stories to watch and in which order, among other departures from traditional news media formats.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

ADVICE FOR JOURNALISM STUDENTS, A LA ROBERT NILES

The newsroom has changed, so why shouldn't the classroom? The profession has advanced, so why should the training not keep up? Pertinent questions about the state of journalism, well answered by Robert Niles.

In a 5-point highly illuminating article, published by the American Online Journalism Review, Niles succinctly bridges the knowledge gap for enrolled journalism students, by linking current industry demands with the professional training being pursued.

No doubt the strong background in web-based journalism of Robert Niles means he places a lot of emphasis on the Internet or online publishing platforms. He thus easily presupposes that all media students must have posted something on the web, which he equates to kick-starting a journalism career:

"Immediate access to a global publishing medium allows any source to become a breaking news reporter, if only for just a moment" 

Quite a sweeping statement to make, in my opinion. I still hold the view that journalism has to be hinged on a set of news values, with stories done with a bit of interpretation, preferably with a multiplicity of sources or voices, with lots of effort to counter-check the veracity and also achieve some level of balance.

But Niles is absolutely spot on, when he challenges journalism students to  consider cultivating an appropriate online presence. I agree with him that potential employers could be keener on somebody who can demonstrate a significant number of unique visitors to their blog, as an example.

But when he says:

"Don't undercut your hard work with moments of Facebook foolishness."

It does look like a hard act to follow for any journalism student. Niles is advocating for a 24/7 awareness of the need to constantly maintain a scribe's demeanour.

I personally like to carefully elect to reflect a different persona, depending on who I am interacting with and also think one is capable of keeping one's private life intact, the attendant difficulties notwithstanding.

Unlike Niles, I feel one needs an alter ego to help keep the 'insanity' that comes with being a journalist, at bay.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

HOW ORIGINAL IS THE ORIGIN OF ORIGINALITY IN TV PROGRAMMES?

Many are the times one can be left mesmerised by what appears to be an original TV programme concept. And the origin of such a perception of originality should indeed not be questioned, especially at the individual level.

In all my often under-estimated naivety, I have been marvelling at one particular programme concept, 'Pete Versus Life,' screened by Channel 4. It struck me as a completely out of this world sit-com.

It just amazes me to see a TV programme employing a split-screen, technique to regularly show two other people doing a running commentary of what is transpiring in the actual programme.

It's like a double dose of comedy because apart from the hilarious escapades of the main character, the commentators also chip in with their own brand of humour. How ingenious!

But apparently, this is not that original. As a matter of fact, as reported in a Guardian online article, the concept's freshness goes back as much as 40 years ago.

So, the storyline could be different, the characters and even the overall treatment. But plainly speaking, that commentary style is not original. And the Guardian goes as far as besmirching the references to what it calls sports-casting cliches.

Pete Versus Life producers however can continue basking on the limited knowledge of viewers like me, who initially believe most of what they encounter for the first time is original.

The empirical interpretation of originality in my view, should not necessarily inform the perception of what constitutes original programme concepts. Unless a programme is outstandingly inferior to the known prototype.









Friday, 6 August 2010

WHERE PICTURES SPEAK LESS THAN A THOUSAND WORDS

International followers of the just concluded referendum in Kenya might have had one stereotypical perception reinforced, courtesy of a leading American media outlet.
Copyright: Washington Post
The majority of the pictures used by the Washington Post depicted members of the Maasai community casting their votes.

This is very much in line perhaps with what the world is used to see, whenever Kenya is mentioned.

Images of the Maasai's resplendent in their traditional regalia and cultural artefacts.

On the face of it, this might not look so wrong but keen observers may want to question whether such pictures are representative enough of the Kenyan people.

It predictably can be classified with the penchant of the international media to elect to use pictures of slums to amplify the poverty levels in Africa, even if the story could be about new found prosperity or economic progress.

Parallels can also be drawn with the customary visits to Nairobi's Kibera shanty dwellings, whenever foreign dignitaries go to Kenya, in the spirit of promoting 'slum tourism.'

And so whenever a Kenyan travels abroad, the bombardment with obnoxious questions, like whether wild animals mingle freely with people in the streets, inevitably has to be endured.

But on a positive note, as somebody wisely pointed out, the usage of the Maasai voting pictures is a befitting statement of the level of democracy and civic awareness prevalent in Kenya, even at the rural or grass-root level.

Friday, 30 July 2010

MUSEUMS SHOULD NOT PROFIT FROM 'STOLEN TREASURES' MR. BRITISH PRIME MINISTER

For how much longer should past colonisers continue to posses and profit from items seized from their former colonies? For eternity? This seems to be the view held by David Cameron, the British Prime minister.

According to a news report carried by BBC online, Cameron flatly refused calls for a prized diamond last worn by the late mother of Queen Elizabeth, to be returned to India, where it was mined.

And his cunning explanation apparently has more to do with the fear of opening up the way for other claims and less to do with a reluctance to admit any wrong-doing.

"If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty..."

In essence, what the British Prime minister is saying is that his country knows too well that apart from the Koh-i-Noor diamond, there are other ill-gotten treasures, historical sculptures and ancient artifacts donning the many impressive museums scattered across the UK.

And many such institutions charge entrance fees, meaning the museums are deriving commercial value from possibly 'stolen treasures.' Isn't that supposed to be illegal?

Perhaps time is nigh for international laws to be drafted to compel countries like Britain to return what rightfully belongs to other nations, having had the misfortune of being colonised by plunderers.

If the BBC is truly not a government mouthpiece, it should perhaps have closely interrogated Cameron's remarks about the famous diamond, which has been part of the Crown Jewels for more than a century.

But trust them to prominently and extensively quote a historian, who questions the validity of India's quest to have the Koi-i-Noor returned to its rightful owners.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

TOURISM ARRIVALS: THE POWER OF COMPARATIVE ANALOGIES

So Kenya is upbeat about getting 1.2 million tourists this year, according to the country's tourism minister. Is this good news, is it worth celebrating, or is it the height of underachievement?

If such a story is reported in the media in a confined context limited to the arrival figures of tourists in Kenya, it would really be hard for one to appreciate the significance of hitting the 1.2 million target.

Whereas if this figure is perhaps compared or contrasted with how other countries are fairing in Africa for example, one might then begin to properly gauge the import of this projected number of tourists to Kenya.

Egypt for example, received 12.8 million visitors in 2008. The number of people, who visited South Africa, just before the 2010 World Cup came to a close, had reached 1 million.

Of course the dynamics in these countries in terms of tourist attractions or motivation for travelling to these destinations are quite different to those found in Kenya. But that is besides the point.

By giving such a comparative analogy, the news story would enable the audience to better digest where Kenya stands in terms of its ability to attract foreign visitors, as opposed to narrowing the scope to reflect only the country's internal performance.

In other words, some stories end up being shallow mere reportage if care is not taken to give a critical analysis of what is being reported.

So what if Kenya gets its one million foreign visitors?

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

DEATH NEED NOT BE ILLUSTRATED BY DEAD BODIES

Uganda's capital city Kampala, has just been rocked by a deadly twin-terrorist attack, with more than seventy people perishing. For the average person to appreciate the gravity of these attacks, the media need not illustrate it with dead bodies.

And yet the images splashed in the Ugandan media seem to negate this very central tenet of journalism ethics. Indeed, very, very disturbing pictures have been posted on the Internet.

And it is hard to believe there is any good that can come out of placing some of these images on social networking sites, even as a way of spurring beneficial debate.

The carnage was horrific and many Ugandans are in mourning. Posting such images online will surely aggravate the trauma of the victims' relatives or anybody, who can recognise them.

I have made it a habit of complaining about the way the western media is fond of showing dead bodies, when reporting about conflicts in Africa or other developing countries, and yet seem to apply another ethical standard, when covering stories of dead people in their own or fellow industrialised states.

I once entered into a heated argument with a TV producer of NHK of Japan, when I was in Tokyo, after seeing close-ups of dead bodies in a documentary the channel had produced about the Darfur conflict in western Sudan.

And in my MA classes here in the UK, many a times have found me castigating the western press for their penchant for double standards. My favourite example being the way dead bodies were splashed across international channels after the 1998 terrorist attacks in Nairobi because the live images were being received and relayed unedited.

But comparatively, every care was taken to avoid showing people jumping from the twin towers after the September 11 attacks in America, despite the images being in the possession of TV networks, as they happened.

It is thus quite devastating for me to see Africa's own media being insensitive to its own people, whether covering their lives or deaths.

Monday, 5 July 2010

AWARD-WINNING JOURNALISTS SHOULD GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO THEIR STORY SOURCES

Many award-winning journalists take pride in dedicating their success to the sources of their stories. The mention at the podium could be based on the hope that highlighted problems will attract the attention they deserve. Or the showcased success would be celebrated and even replicated elsewhere. But is that enough?

There is no denying that in meriting recognition for outstanding journalistic work, some media practitioners go through lots of difficulties and even direct threats to their very existence. Undercover or investigative reporters could definitely expound on this issue.

Others cover great distances before accessing remote areas that eventually produce a gem of a story, worthy of critical acclaim. And even after getting the raw information on the ground, accomplished journalists have been known to infuse their own brand of story-telling magic to make their coverage truly stand out.

My 2007 CNN African Journalism Award
So the moment journalists get honoured for their exemplary professional achievement, they can't be faulted for taking it as their personal source of pride and ample proof of their credentials as worthy scribes.

Of course many will remember to thank the Almighty, family, colleagues and a word or two is reserved for the subjects in their award-winning pieces.

 I can't help but imagine how much better it would have been for me to go back to that community of Mwingi, in rural Kenya, that provided the setting for my winning environment entry at the 2007 CNN African Journalist Awards. It's a crying shame that I have never privately gone back to say thank you and share with them my success.



Likewise, this years' winner in the Economic and Business category, NTV Kenya's Kaara Wainaina, can perhaps spend some time with those hearty and astute grandmothers, whose model banking system earned him his trophy. 


Rose Wangui from NTV also, could share her success on the ground with the children, whose moving tale of a troubled pursuit of education, earned Wangui her TV News Bulletin accolade. 


The same goes to the likes of Sarah Kimani, formerly of NTV but now working for SABC and the overall 2009 CNN African Journalist of the Year, who recently switched to NTV from KTN, John- Allan Namu, as well as other Kenyan winners of the prestigious awards. 


As a matter of fact, the sponsors of the competition should consider setting aside some cash token or material benefits for the subjects or communities, whose coverage yield the award-winning entries. 


That way, it will definitely cease to look like journalists getting rewarded for exploiting the stories and circumstances of their news sources, to weave brilliant winning pieces only for the highlighted stories to be forgotten in readiness for the next round of competition.

Friday, 25 June 2010

IMPERIALIST PROPAGANDA-THE MISTAKEN BELIEF THAT AFRICA IS YEARNING FOR THE RETURN OF EUROPEAN COLONIAL MASTERS

Has Africa gone full circle from blaming the ills afflicting the continent on previous European colonial masters, to now yearning for their return and wishing they had never left in the first place? That is the latest imperialist propaganda being peddled by one UK media outlet.

A story featured in BBC's Newsnight television programme woefully attempted to suggest Sierra Leonians are almost begging for the return of Britain as a colonial master.

True, the UK played a decisive role in ending the Sierra Leone civil war that had torn the country asunder and exposed its citizens to untold suffering. So you would expect the same people to speak highly of the British, from the point of view of being grateful to their 'almighty liberator.'

But the reporter, Allan Little, seemed to go overboard in his quest to question the apparent satisfaction with neo-colonialism in Sierra Leone. A clear misrepresentation of circumstances in my opinion, to generalize an assumption. This is how he he puts it:

"It is more than 50 years since the British left Sierra Leone and the country embraced independence, while the whole of the continent of Africa freed itself from the shackles of colonial domination. But now Sierra Leone wants its former colonisers to return with more help."

He seems to especially find delight in repeatedly asking Sierra Leone's Finance minister, whether the country is happy with the way Britain is once again dictating the political affairs of that West African state, and 'feigns' disbelief, when the minister says the former colonial master should even exert more influence.

In other words, the BBC reporter appears to be on a covert mission to glorify colonialism and deride Africa's quest for self-determination and independence from the British Empire imperial domination. It's almost like saying the struggles for independence were in vain.







Isn't it it ironic and amazing that the widely experienced and critically acclaimed Allan Little can belabour the point that many people in Sierra Leone cannot find a way out of poverty and prescribe British solutions, at a time when the UK is grappling with unprecedented economic difficulties and is in the process of implementing austerity measures to manage it's budgetary deficit?

Saturday, 19 June 2010

MISSING THE LINK IN POST-APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA

Away from the World Cup matches in South Africa, many UK journalists covering the global event, have been filing human interest stories. The trend has been to focus on blacks in the post-apartheid era. There's a missing link in the stories though.

Apartheid was not just about the subjugation of the majority black South Africans by the whites. It was also about the whites lording over the blacks and using their military might to sustain this abomination.

So it's all well and good to showcase the reflections of blacks and how they finally subdued the apartheid monster after four decades of a dedicated struggle. But that is just half the picture.

It would also be immensely interesting to find out how the whites are coping with the loss of their historical and despicable political domination in South Africa.

Critics might rightly argue this would open up racial wounds that the country has been struggling to heal in the post-apartheid era. But isn't the risk there as well, when telling the same story from the blacks' point of view?

Somebody needs to tell the world if at all the whites have truly shed off their mistaken superiority aura in a typically black man's country. Are they suffering from any hangups of domination or are they genuinely repentant and willing to integrate?

The last time I was in Cape Town, I had a strong feeling that racial inequalities still existed, despite the dismantling of the apartheid regime. I never did come across mixed marriages or even a case of dating across the racial divide.

So yes. we know the blacks are still struggling despite taking over political leadership. But a little insight into the ordinary lives of white South Africans, on the sidelines of the World Cup coverage, would be a welcomed change.

Friday, 11 June 2010

THE REALITY OF IMPLIED VIOLENCE IN SPORTS NEWS METAPHORS

My heart skipped a bit. A feeling of sadness engulfed me, as I went through the sports news headlines of a recent online edition of Kenya's Daily Nation,  "Green sharks devour students." My brain had focused on the violence implied, not the metaphors .

The reality of course was different and the story was in fact about an international hockey tournament, where a team going by the name Green Sharks had defeated another from Strathmore University.

Similarly, one is also bound to find sports news headlines like, "Cops now all out to arrest tormentors," in  reference to yet a another hockey team from the Kenya Police.

And another somewhat morbid sports headline screams, "Ngige slays Rwandan in Sudden Death." Now metaphors aside, how easy is it for one to decipher that that is a golf story?

Why is there so much emphasis on the use of negative words denoting some sort of violent confrontation, when it comes to reporting sports stories?

What happened to the plain speaking team A has beaten team B or team C lost to team D? The meaning would still be intact without the battlefield references in sports.

But apparently, sports is a passionate engagement, which calls for a certain heightening of emotions, when its being reported in the news. The excitement apparently stems from the suggested aggressiveness.

And some sports like hockey, it is said, are inherently aggressive, which sportswriters mimic when doing articles about them. One can only hope the reports don't end up inciting or glorifying violence. But headlines like:
"The champion slayer of Paris"
...............still scare me, even if this one is in reference to the tennis court heroics of Robin Soderling at the French Open.

Let's see what kind of sports news headlines will be churned out by those covering the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa.

Friday, 4 June 2010

APPEARANCE FEES FOR DISAPPEARING BRAZILIAN FOOTBALLERS

It's the Brazilian footballers, who put the beauty in the beautiful game. And now their national team can afford to charge hefty appearance fees, before playing other countries. But what if the team is playing, or rather dealing with countries with not so robust economies?

Take Zimbabwe for example. Still smarting from having the world's worst rate of inflation, the country still dished out nearly 2 million US dollars for the 'once in a lifetime' opportunity to play Brazil, the world's top ranked football team.



The economic hardships notwithstanding, the state even declared a half-day public holiday and President Robert Mugabe and Prime minister Robert Tsvangirai joined the 60,000 strong crowd at Harare's National Stadium.

According to the Zimbabwe Mail online edition, the cash-strapped government is already being taken to task for what some argue is a gross misrepresentation of the country's immediate priorities.


But perhaps even more distressing is the revelation that Zimbabwe's national football team was stranded after the match, with no available transport to take them back to their hotel. One player was quoted saying:
"It is so frustrating that we are now being dumped like this when we are being used to make millions for them."
Bongo country pays up Brazilian Samba appearance fees 


And now the Samba Boys fancy footwork cash machine is headed to Tanzania for another 'friendly' warm up, as it tunes up for the World Cup, in South Africa.

The move is being hailed as a great achievement by the East African nation, even though record prices for the match tickets are being anticipated, specifically with a view to offsetting the huge appearance fee going the Brazil way on June 7th.

Indeed, there are inherent benefits in playing Brazil, especially when one considers the international exposure for the players or global publicity for Tanzania. The match after all, is expected to be broadcast live in 160 countries.

Whether this is commensurate with the cost of bringing the famed Brazilian footballers to Dar es Salaam, is probably always going to be debatable.

But I just can't help but wonder whether the overly commercial approach by the Brazilian Football Confederation is the way to go in its sort of uniform and generalized manner.

Brazil's football team, in any case, is comprised of extremely wealthy individuals and the team is also getting valuable training, for all its worth. Must 'poor' countries be charged the same 'pricey' rate for the Samba delight?







Monday, 24 May 2010

LOST GIRLS OF SOUTH AFRICA AND UNETHICAL DOUBLE STANDARDS OF THE UK MEDIA

The disclosure of the identity of a minor involved in a court case in the United Kingdom is expressly forbidden. Is it too much to expect the same ethical considerations, when the UK media is covering similar legal issues from elsewhere in the world?

Almost inevitably it seems, that would depend on the definition of elsewhere. If it is from a fellow industrialized country, the same standards apply but if we are talking about an African country, then the same ethical standards need not apply.

A very emotive episode of Dispatches, on Channel 4, disturbingly titled, 'The Lost Girls of South Africa, is a good case in point.

Whereas the producers did a super job in highlighting the plight of young girls at risk of sexual assault by close relatives and neighbours, the depiction of the victims was utterly deplorable.

It mattered not that the girls, aged between 11 and 13 were minors in every sense. Subjecting them to having to describe how they were sexually molested on camera, was humiliatingly inhuman, cruel and in very bad taste.

But the obsession of capturing the little ones crying on tape seemed to have gotten the better of the producers. And so the already traumatized souls had to endure being filmed almost around the clock, as they struggled to deal with their physical, psychological, social and emotional scarring.

UK media unethical misadventure in  South Africa 


The crowning low-point in the story, in my opinion, had to do with the absolute discarding of the girls' absolute right to privacy. No attempt is made to conceal their identity.

Their interviews include very detailed close-ups and for even one shocking scene, you get to see one sexually abused girl getting the results of her HIV test, in the company of her mother.

Is it because of the debilitating poverty or inability to enforce written down laws in many African countries that makes them so vulnerable to all manner of attacks by the western media?

And one cannot also help but question the motive behind the timing of this particular Dispatches. A couple of weeks prior to South Africa hosting the greatest sporting spectacle on earth, football's World Cup. Another stab in the back to stem Africa's progress?

Yes the victims need all the help they can get and the exposure of the weak judicial system in South Africa will go a long way in piling pressure on the government there to implement mush needed reforms.

But the survivors of the harrowing ordeals still deserve and should be accorded all their inalienable rights as human beings.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

KENYAN RUGBY FANS INVADE LONDON'S TWICKENHAM STADIUM


                                     Londons's Twickenham Stadium, Copyright Agachiri 2010


They came from all over the United Kingdom, European capitals and Africa. Right from the train stations in central London to the Twickenham Stadium in the South West, an unusually boisterous foreign legion of fans proudly announced its presence. The Kenyan rugby team was in town.

The UK capital was hosting another round of the IRB Sevens, which to many Kenyans in the Diaspora meant an unmissable opportunity to let free their patriotism spirit and also set into motion partying plans that had been planned a year or so in advance.

With temperatures soaring well above 20 degrees, it was also an opportunity for the ladies to unleash their outer beauty and let's just say there was a very thin line between casual sexy and extremely provocative, when it came to the day's attires.

                                                                              Kenyan merchandise on sale, Copyright Agachiri 2010

But the one dominant item of clothing was the T-shirt with colours of the Kenyan flag. So popular were the Kenyan team kit that one could easily think the event was being hosted in the East African country.

And those with a business acumen did not fail to grab this opportunity as well, with some setting up entire stands dealing with Kenyan merchandise.

Any Kenyan could also easily discern there was an usually high number of people conversing in Kiswahili, in it's many shades of manifestation. And the UK being a major market for tourists to Kenya, some of the locals heartily joined in occasionally, with their routine, 'Jambo, jambo bwana.'


Kenyan fans takeover of Twickenham

Inside the 82,000 capacity seats Twickenham Stadium, the upper tiers were remarkably empty but on the lower stands, specifically in the South, things were drastically different. This happens to be the section reserved for Kenyan fans and they all flocked there.

Kenyans cheer their rugby team, Copyright Agachiri 2010

It was as if a powerful magnet was drawing the Kenyans together. It no longer mattered who was seating on whose seat and the match stewards had to give up trying to clear the aisles, which were swarming with Kenyan fans eager to cheer their team.

Other than the rugby matches, the Kenyan fans section was a spectacle to behold. So many Kenyan flags were flying about and the singing and chanting was a direct ticket to a nostalgic Kenyan wonderland. The  outpouring of the love for their country by the fans simply stood out and was really admirable.

It was a reunion of Kenyans abroad like I had never before witnessed before in my many travails across different countries in the world. This was spectacularly special and a firm indication that Kenyans are indeed proud of their country.
                                 
                                    Sophie Ikenye at Twickenham, Copyright Agachiri 2010


It perhaps didn't matter that the Kenyan team outclassed Portugal, or narrowly lost to Wales or even succumbed from a late rally by New Zealand that earned them a draw against the resilient Kenyan rugby sevens side.

All the Kenyan fans were true winners in my eyes. They won me over with their sense of togetherness in a foreign country. I call it the twin-win at Twickenham.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

CONSTITUTION REFERENDUM: WHAT IF THE KENYAN MEDIA TAKE SIDES?



Kenyans go to the poll in August with a chance to either usher in a new Constitution or reject the proposed one, in the country's second ever referendum. Should the Kenyan media attempt to be neutral or this time around just openly declare their support for or against the draft?

The angel you don't know has never been a better choice compared to the devil you know, and that apparently, is what has been bedeviling the local media industry.

Public perception has often been that this and that media house supports the government's position and that and that are against it.

And this labeling, whether accurate or fallacious is despite the said media houses insisting they are non-partisan and accommodative of all interested parties and divergent views.

Almost immediately after the Media Owners Association pledged to adhere to fair reporting of both sides, ahead of the constitution referendum in Kenya, critics expressed their distrust of this promise. So would it be preferable to openly side with either side?

Where media take sides on major issues

In more advanced economies and democracies, media establishments have historically never shied from siding with a particular viewpoint. In the recently concluded UK elections, some newspapers even went as far as running smear campaigns against certain parties or candidates.

The public and the concerned authorities seemingly are not bothered by the fact that this amounts to unbalanced reporting and denial of fair comment tenets. And probably due to the fact that their position had been stated beforehand, there is no ethical offense committed.

Is the media scene in Kenya, as argued by veteran scribe Joe Kadhi,  ripe for such a situation? On the face of it, it might be asking for too much, given the fragile nature of the country's politics and not to mention the economy's own frailty. If a media house backs the wrong choice, it could have serious financial implications.

But then again, the reality is that certain media houses are bound to be adjudged pro-establishment, however hard they try to take the middle path. And others will always appear to bear the burden of being anti-government in the Kenyan public eye.

That could one day inspire some courage to openly declare an official position on major political matters like General Elections or a plebiscite, just like the way the press has been steadfast on declaring where they stand on issues of national importance like corruption or environmental conservation.