It is increasingly becoming difficult, even painful, to watch “Prime Time News” on any of Kenya’s television channels. There seems to be some healthy competition among the three major “Prime Time News” providers: NTV, KTN and Citizen TV. The main problem, however, is that Kenyan “Prime Time News” is too informative. FRED MBOGO reports.
News watchers are bombarded with doses of information and are “hooked” or “condemned” to keep coming everyday for more servings of the same “in-depth” knowledge. However, the fact of the matters is that ‘News’ is constantly being shaped by the main television stations to agree with the sympathies of the various “analysers”. The stations fight to identify “analyser”-friendly news items or news angles. Most analysers are often biased viewers who already have preconceived ideas about issues which should not be changed by the news but only confirmed. Every news item must therefore fit within their web of theories about a people, a place or a process. News-worthiness is therefore measured by the “analyser” in terms of whether it serves to confirm his prejudices.
This is the reason why there can never be a consensus about whether it is Citizen TV,Â NTV or KTN that is the best news provider. People prefer these stations depending on their political leanings. The stations therefore pretend to be objective but are in fact subtly subjective. They need to keep their “analysers” satisfied so they pretend to pursue all angles to a story but one can discern that their angles are skewed in favour of a specific view. Although it is not really wrong to be biased, it is grossly immoral to pretend that you are unbiased. It is immoral to hide your true colours but keep pushing an agenda towards your political leanings.
Where there is too much information, it seems the truth becomes slippery. But it is the simplification of information that galls even more. There is a love for Kenyan News providers to simplify news into a contest between one force and another. In this formula of news presentation, there is always the good side whose positive profile is highlighted or, where nothing positive seems forthcoming, is painted as a victim of the bad side. On the other hand the bad side’s negative elements are given greater emphasis. But the news presenters forget that goodness and badness is relative or that it is not permanent.
Currently, it is frustrating to follow stories surrounding the Mungiki, a militia group whose heinous criminal activities have brought misery to many a Nairobi and Central Kenya resident. At one time the news providers present the Mungiki as a menace but when “human rights” activists raise their voices in angst against the forceful reaction of the police in dealing with the Mungiki, the news providers shift their views. The militia group is presented in a sympathetic light, so that its members areÂ viewed as victims of police brutality and never as the vicious criminals they are. This shift is never given a clear background and that makes it difficult for anyone following the Mungiki story to realise who they really are. A flood of information may be given pointing to police brutality and “extra-judicial killing” but nothing is mentioned on their working conditions. They are simply branded as under-trained and blood-thirsty, gun-totting criminals in uniform. The tide turns only when a “big” enough voice points in the direction of suggesting that the police also are human and, therefore, have rights.
The black and white simplification of stories has taken an even trickier route in the form of the informal or, as the news providers call them, the “unscientific” surveys they carry out. Many of the questions asked are what lawyers may call “leading” questions, where a conclusion has already been made and a “yes” or “no” confirmation should be given. The questions do not allow the viewers to think through the issues presented. So everything is reduced to a Yes or a No, and the intricate elements of the stories are ignored. This is dangerous in as far as viewers “feel” informed about an incident, event or group or person while the truth is that they have been hemmed to only think within only one perspective. Yet the news providers present themselves as fair and unbiased!
But news has also become entertainment where viewers are grouped as supporters of this or that individual depending on their political leanings. Supporters are made to cheer and jeer without thinking. Politicians have learned to present themselves in these media as “fighters” for their respective constituencies, and often times their tribal affiliations. In the process when scandals, particularly those on corruption, are revealed, viewers can quickly buy into a politician’s argument that he is under attack for his political beliefs. Or that his tribal affiliation is being politically maligned.
Viewers sometimes want to watch the reaction of the group they do not belong to. News providers work hard to provide these statements without giving the other angle from the “unbiased” in between group. The focus is on the warring parties, in a simple fashion of a “we” versus “them” situation for their viewers.
When the information being given is seemingly a lot, what is the yard-stick for its quality?
A quality inspection police should be formed to check on the work of these news providers. Guilty parties, for there shall surely be some, should be forever silenced. Perhaps this is a good enough case for the supporters of the draconian media law that seeks to confiscate equipment from media houses that fail to live up to the rules of the “quality inspection police”.