Quote: “When I move around this country these days, I feel like an American in Baghdad: unwanted, hated, a target.” Mutuma Mathiu #KOTNewsAt9 #DigitalMigration

Posted: February 20, 2015 in Opinion
Tags: , ,

Kenya presents a rotten image to the world when State switches off media

By MUTUMA MATHIU

When I move around this country these days, I feel like an American in Baghdad: unwanted, hated, a target.

As a newspaper editor and a journalist for going on 20 years now — having worked, and sometimes been punished for working in various media houses — today I feel, more than at any other time, that President Kenyatta and his government do not just misunderstand me and what we stand for and what we do, but that his government hates me and is actively determined to destroy what the journalists who came before me over the past 114 years and I represent.

I have watched the debate on digital migration with a sinking heart and a growing anger at the incredible myopia, dishonesty and self-serving cowardice of the people whose salary I pay so that they give the President wholesome advice and run public affairs with honesty.

I believe as a man of average intelligence and some moral fibre that I wasn’t put on this earth just to stand for my stomach, but to represent those who can’t always represent themselves and to speak for those who dare not. Many times it means speaking for those who don’t even know they need, or want, to be spoken for. So I make it my business when you have to wait for cancer treatment for a year. It becomes my business, too,  when people who may have Ebola have contact with your children without the requisite medical checks at the airport. I call out the fellow we pay to do that job. I make it my business when your husband is disappeared by the State. And when your innocent son is shot by the police.

When public money is stolen and land for a school is grabbed, I will be somewhere in the mix. And when fanatics raid our country and slaughter men, women and children, I walk in their blood, to explain to you what and why it is happening, to rally your support for those hurt, to give you comfort and to encourage you, to stiffen your back and convince you that we can protect ourselves better and prevent atrocities in future.

I am not a criminal.

I used to write many years ago quoting a guy who argued that democracy can’t grow until the majority are sufficiently educated, and intelligent enough, to develop a philosophical outlook, that is, a mindset that allows dispassionate, rational decision making based on values, rather than needs.

In other words to find yourself in a place where you can take a decision based on your belief that something is right, rather than, for example, your psychological need to identify with your ethnic group.

MEDIOCRE ELITE

Sadly, this land is cursed. We used to think that tribalism was a problem of old people. It sickens me as a person who worries about the future of our country that young people, especially the ones who drown us in their opinion on social media, do not distinguish between ethnic jingoism and public interest.

Tribalism grows by the day, like a worm in the brain of our nation, robbing us of the ability to think and to function, fed by a ruthless but largely mediocre elite.

My quarrel with Mr Kenyatta is not about commercial wars and regulatory posturing. It is about press freedom and the rotten image this country presents to the world when it switches off its media.

For me when reporters, producers, editors cannot present their stories to their viewers because they are not allowed to by the State — and I don’t care whose interests are being fondled — that is an egregious and criminal violation of press freedom.

It is wanton violation of the agreement we signed in 2010 after a decade of fighting one another. I think Mr Kenyatta and his government have violated something sacred, something fundamental to the nation we wanted to become when we agreed on a new journey in 2010.

They have killed the dream of my generation, that if we fight repression hard enough, then our people have the philosophical outlook to create a free, prosperous and open society.

People who are in or close to the regime possibly don’t need an independent Press. It is people outside the regime, people the regime would do the dirty thing to, those are the ones who need champions.

Today you are in the regime, who knows about tomorrow? Today your business is prosperous. What about tomorrow when your bitter rival is in the regime and you are not?

Democracy is not a momentary convenience; it is the under which we must all find shelter.
Issues of press freedom are not a political conspiracy against Jubilee. They are not an ethnic matter, either.

This is about the government demonising and criminalising us in the media and stripping our colleagues on TV of the right to practise journalism and earn an honest livelihood from their profession.

(mmathiu@ke.nationmedia.com)

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