Columnists

Editor, more avocado news and less politics

crowd
jenny

Summary

  • It’s our media barons: the men — and one woman — of power who run our media.
  • It is them, even a single editorial director, who could set the bar higher on political content, reduce the pagination or broadcast minutes, demand greater news value, leave more reporting and editing resources assigned to not-the-election.

The new year always brings out reflections on the year just lived, and our last year was certainly momentous, with swathes of us moving out of the capital, closing companies, leaving jobs, or starting new ones. But for many of us, life went into overdrive in the fourth quarter of last year. It was as if the world, and commerce, and every individual, was suddenly trying to do just some of the things, or even all of them, that had been set aside because we were having lockdowns.

Yet, was it more extreme because of our impending election — a last window before commerce goes into hiding again for the latest political saga? And, more importantly still, will it last? For, one of the most depressing things, for me, about pouring all my own energy and will and time into the development of Kenya, is, indeed, the impact of our political cycle.

For I have lived in other countries too, but I have never seen an election procession of such enormity. Kenya just has more politicians per head of population, more politics, and more election. It devotes more media time, starts earlier, and closes down more other activities for its elections.

Good or bad, the elections smother everything, and for far longer.

But the economic damage that flows from all that over-attention, and neglect of all else, the opportunities lost, and the problems overlooked and left unresolved, make for a huge sum.

Indeed, maybe my next job in life will be to measure and model it all and work out if we lose more through the election circus than we ever gain, or could gain, from an election result that delivers us better governance and thus greater development.

Yet, has it ever occurred to you who is actually responsible for all this election mania, akin to some kind of video gaming addiction? By my count, it’s barely more than 10 men and one woman, and none of them are politicians. Because, as it happens, it isn’t our President who determines the scale of the election drama, or our presidential aspirants, not any of them.

It’s our media barons: the men — and one woman — of power who run our media. It is them, even a single editorial director, who could set the bar higher on political content, reduce the pagination or broadcast minutes, demand greater news value, leave more reporting and editing resources assigned to not-the-election.

And with every story they gave space to that meant fewer people died of meningitis, or more farmers exported avocados, or more schools got cheaper learning resources, or the billion other ways that news about not-the-election can change lives, more lives would be changed.

Yet, those same directors claim the drivers of wall-to-wall election noise are outside their hands. One media owner, who has spent a lifetime pursuing development, explained to me he puts the political wrangle onto his front page, versus the story about a genuinely high-impact change, because it’s the pointless wrangle that sells more newspapers.

In similar vein, a friend on the Coast laughed at me just a few days ago when I asked if one of his friends was worried about something, telling me, ‘We men, Jenny, we talk about football and we talk about politics. We don’t talk about what we’re worried about, that’s what women do’.

And that’s the heart of our forever sputtering development: our male bonding is political talk, so our private, commercial media, must be full of political talk to capture the eyes and minds of the male readers; women being off out there in social relationships, helping kids with homework, running homes.

Yet, what would I give, my journalist’s heart aching once again, for just one seat-of-media-power channel owner, editorial director, or managing editor who said: ‘we have just lived two years of Covid, it’s hurt us all over, so this election, politics gets 1/3rd, but 2/3rds of our channel is for the lives, livings and pain-points of our audience’. Would people really switch the news off?