If you are to use three adjectives to describe news content broadcasted by mainstream Kenyan media at the moment, depressing, over-commercialised and too political would fit the bill.
This argument was espoused by a tweet posted by a Kenyan in May that summed up the perception that the public has on news content, the tweet which was simultaneously comical and enlightening was widely shared on social media and its take away should be a wake up call for Kenyan media gatekeepers.
The tweet posted by one Joshua Njenga showed that ordinary Kenyans who are not trained journalists can smell when media practitioners don’t put in enough effort and when prime time is extremely commercialised.
TV: EVENING NEWS IN KENYA
1. Person A Commits Suicide in Place B
2. Person C Has Been Murdered in Place D
6. Kieleweke Warns Tangatanga
7. Tangatanga Warns Kieleweke
Thanks for Watching.
— Joshua K. Njenga (@JKNjenga) May 26, 2019
The engagement from the tweet was quite telling, one user said that he no longer watches news because he can only absorb so much negative energy, in short he meant that he is done with attempting to flog a dead horse.
I stopped watching news with my girls. Kenyans need counseling, you can’t absorb so much evil stuff
— Fitz Muriuki (@fitz_fm) May 26, 2019
From an editors perspective, the media is the mirror of the society and what is broadcasted reflects who we are but more should be done to make sure that there is a balance between the ills that Kenyans need to know and the hidden informative/undertold content that the media is reluctant to explore.
In my interactions with normal Kenyans, I have established that many other people share Njenga’s opinion that Kenyan news is a running order of depressing occurrences.
Murder, corruption and endless politicking have almost become synonymous with prime time news.
How Kenyan media treats human interest stories especially is of major concern to the general public and media observers.
We should not be placing too much emphasis on reporting when people commit suicide but we should strive to do documentaries on the causes of suicide and what can be done to reduce the ever increasing suicide cases in the country.
A recent report revealed that at least five suicide cases have been reported every month since July 2018 in Nyandarua County, the coverage of the same story on mainstream national TV, print media, vernacular TV and global media outlets was very different.
Local national broadcasters were happy to report the statistics without deeply interrogating the causes and charting the way forward rather than just reporting the problem while the rest of the pile all attempted to find out what is ailing the country.
The insistence on bad and alarming news can be attributed to dwindling media revenue and the emergence of digital media which has disrupted traditional media taking away loads of revenue from the latter.
Advertising revenue is now consumerate to the number of viewers/readers or listeners that a media outlet boasts of hence the outlets are left with no other option but to publish stories that will instantly grab the audience’s attention depending on their editorial policy.
During his training in London after winning the BBC Komla Dumor award, Citizen TV anchor Waihiga Mwaura penned an opinion piece published on Citizen Digital dubbed Should Kenya’s media invest more in Solutions-Focused Journalism?
Waihiga’s article suggested that Kenya should focus on Solutions Focused Journalism (SFJ).
He explained that SFJ should not be misconstrued to mean Public Relations stories or content sponsored by Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) but he opined that some stories should be told to make the society a better place.
The award winning journalist gave an example of a story featured on Citizen TV in March 2018 that reported on how Geta (a village in Nyandarua County) residents who had taken the initiative to conserve Geta Forest shortly after the government banned logging in February 2018.
He said that the impact of that story on the society was monumentous, “Fast-forward to the present and the benefits of this solution are clear for everyone to see. The forest has now reclaimed part of its acreage because of sustained replanting and the villagers have benefitted from good soil in which they can plant crops and even make some money off their efforts,”
“In a world where bad news sells, proponents of SFJ may have a hard time moving this form of journalism from the fringes to the center,” wrote Waihiga “But if stories coming out of the African continent only speak of theft, corruption, tribalism and all the other social ills then what will motivate the younger generation to aspire to build their countries of origin and work hard to find solutions for the problems they are all too familiar with,’ he added.
Kenyans need to know when public funds are looted by individuals elected or appointed to public positions but do they need to hear 5 bad stories on the trot during one bulletin? My guess is as good as yours.