Beware danger of sharing newspapers on WhatsApp


For businesses like the media, the underlying condition is the theft and illicit sale of digital copies of newspapers. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Every business has an underlying condition, just like many us who look good in these streets. However, many have developed the ability to ensure that such conditions remain publicly unacknowledged until a major event upsets the balance of life. Then it is no longer business as usual.

For instance, the underlying condition of jobs like those of county askaris becomes apparent when curfews are imposed to check the spread of the coronavirus. That is when it dawns on them that they do not provide essential services. By extension that means that they have to get home before 7 pm, much earlier than the Mama Mboga who sells groceries outside city shops, who is, by definition, classified as a food supplier, hence an essential service provider.

For businesses like the media, the underlying condition is the theft and illicit sale of digital copies of newspapers, which appears to have gone out of control ever since the government imposed restrictions on movements and confined all the bright chaps in Nairobi.

The upshot of this is that every young techie in town, who has time on their hands, can sign up for a digital subscription and then, depending on their sophistication, they can make copies of varying quality that they then sell for a pittance or give out for free depending on the moral philosophy they ascribe to.

Egalitarians will give away the content for free, believing that in so doing they are democratising information. They are more likely to sell, even if way below market rates, so that everybody can have a role, no matter how nominal, in keeping the economy moving.

Every time these illicit copies are shared generously in the WhatsApp groups in which I a member, I, of course, raise a ruckus. The other day, a member asked: Is sharing of newspaper PDFs illegal? Actually, the question was asked last Sunday, which also happened to be the World Intellectual Property Day.

I am a partisan for intellectual property, seeing it is my bread, butter and toaster. That is part of the reason the question stuck in my head as much as it struck my heart.

Of course, the gleeful recipient, who is also a potential offender, had no idea that he was handling stolen property. Indeed, if I were to push my case far enough, I would ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to also consider abuse of a communication device as an additional charge against such a person and others of like mind.

Need I belabour the point that this is punishable by a fine not exceeding Sh50,000 or a jail term not exceeding three months or both? If you ask me, “both” is now one of my favourite words in this wide, wild world.

For sure, I would have wanted to share this useful information in our WhatsApp group — in journalism we call such information “news you can use” — but I would not want the Admin to kick me out for recommending jail at this time of social distancing, which I suspect, is not being observed inside Kodiaga.

So, using my knowledge of philosophy, I argued that the unchecked distribution of pirated newspapers was synonymous with taking lunch right off my table. That is a language friends would easily understand. That also means my employer would be haemorrhaging revenue every time the PDFs are shared illegally.

For a guy like me, whose livelihood is directly linked to that of my employer through what scientists call “symbiosis”, my livelihood would not take too long to be quarantined. Soon after, my bank account will start exhibiting some of the symptoms associated with another deadly fever, Ebola, especially the part about haemorrhaging from every pore.

But there is a more important point I would like to close with, Ladies and Gentlemen. The mainstream media is an important pillar of democracy. You can trifle with it in the age of social media. But in the hour of need, it is mainstream media that stands up to tyranny, gives a voice to the voiceless and shapes the agenda for the nation.

Even economists like Angus Deaton acknowledge that in countries without a free mainstream media, people are more likely to die of conditions such as hunger, or good forbid, the coronavirus, because in such societies it is easy to conceal numbers and cover up the truth.

Finally, as you are aware, the earth is healing. These days, we can see Mt Kenya from Dandora. It will be only a matter of time before the police, and hacker-catchers, get a pixel-perfect view of those pirating newspapers. Then they will have to take very painful tests — at their own cost.

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