Wednesday, March 19, 2014

TIMING IS WRONG FOR KTN'S UPCOMING ELECTION EXPOSE`

A notice announcing an upcoming investigative expose` about events surrounding the 2013 elections is arousing unusual consternation within some quarters in the political establishment, stoking fears that the report could cause "a ripple in the pond" when most Kenyans had moved on a year after the controversial presidential polls.

Much of the heat is being spread by social media pundits who have raised speculation ranging from possible new evidence that hint at completely different election results from the ones announced, to suggestions that the expose` may be a cut-and-paste work from the 839-page evidence bundle submitted by Raila Odinga which the Supreme Court rejected.

Seven affidavits from the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) which purportedly showed inconsistencies in the voting process were expunged from the Court records before they were heard.

The Kenya Television News station (KTN) has not said exactly when the report would be aired, but video snippets and a full page advertisement carried by its flagship publication, The Standard, ask one curious question: "What really happened at the BALLOT?"

This question sounds superfluous since Kenyans know what happened on that historic March 4, 2013 when they went to the polls to elect their leaders. Kenyans know because they spent days and nights watching the unfolding events on KTN and on other outlets.

However, the key word here is "really."

I presume that what Mohammed Ali of the Kiswahili's Jicho Pevu, and John-Allan Namu of the English's Inside Story are telling us, is that a lot more happened during that election period than we were originally told; that either the KTN was unable or unwilling to broadcast the real story at the material time, or, it has now stumbled on new information which it feels we, the public, ought to know.

Either way, my questions are: why is it so necessary to revisit this chapter many of us would like to forget? And, why now?

Hopefully, the reporters will answer those questions.

There are two other general questions journalism practitioners often raise in cases such as this. Jim Onyango Ongowo, a Kenyan student at the University of Leeds raised the same questions in his dissertation for a Masters degree in International Journalism. Does the public have the right to know? And, is it in the public's interest to run an investigative report?

In this case the answer is yes. Kenyans have the right to know everything that happened before, during and after the polls. Why? Because it is a matter of public interest. And two because this is what journalism is all about. However, there is a third side of the coin.

We all know what happened in 2007 when the opposition disputed the polls that gave Mwai Kibaki the presidency. The controversy turned into widespread violence that left over a thousand people dead and tens of thousands others displaced. It also sent three Kenyans to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague - two of them victors in that election - on charges against humanity.

When the 2013 elections came, we did everything to avoid another convulsion of violence. ODM, the loser, made a lot of noise about how the elections were stolen but - unlike in 2007 - it did not call its supporters out to the streets. Instead, it appealed for calm, filed a case in the Supreme Court and lost. ODM is still disputing that decision.

In the meantime, we have been able to sustain political stability which allows the Jubilee Government to embark on fulfilling its election pledges. All this hardly means we are out of the woods. Mistrust continues to dominate our political landscape because a section of our population refuses to accept the legitimacy of the new Administration. The bottom line is, the country is still susceptible to nefarious political undercurrents.

The Kenya constitution protects media freedom, and KTN - or any other organisation for that matter - has the right to air any material as long it is accurate and fair. The media's first commitment is to the citizenry and not to social, economic or political exigencies.

Where I have a problem is why KTN wants to air a report as sensitive as this at this time of our political transition. The landscape is still too delicate and some of our people are still too disconsolate to rationalise the events surrounding that election.

My opposition to this report is therefore based not on the fundamental principles of media freedom - the right of the public to know - but on the timing.

Ali and Namu are, undoubtedly, among the best in the business. They have distinguished themselves as some of the boldest and fearless investigative journalists in the country. In their quest for the truth, they have rattled government agencies, irritated politicians and ruffled drug and corrupt cartels. By their own admission, they live under threats and warnings of consequences too gruesome to imagine. But they have chosen to trudge on, nevertheless, because they believe in truth.

I am the first to admit my fears may be misplaced, but if and when the report is aired, I hope it will not be used by political elements to promote hatred and ethnicity, but will stand out to add value to knowledge, boost the tenets of investigative journalism and contribute to making Kenya's electoral system more robust and less contentious.

And that is my say.