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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Secrets And Scandals In Kenya's Media

Most Kenyans hold the press in very high esteem. In fact in the days to come the Kenyan media is set to rise in prominence and importance even more as we approach the general elections.

Although it is true that standards in Kenya are very high when compared to other African countries, Kenyans should be very careful about what they read in their newspapers. Always seek to carefully chew and digest what you read in your newspapers.

First of all there are always business considerations (see the other post that talks in great detail about the circulation side of the business amongst Kenyan newspapers.)

In the 1980s there was a major strike at one of Kenya's largest companies. A reporter who lived close to the factory noticed a commotion in the morning as he was preparing to go to work, he called his news editor and a photographer promptly arrived. The reporter knew that it was the kind of story that was capable of being a Page one splash and was very excited about it.

The story was never published. The company in question was one of the biggest advertisers at this particular newspaper and usually spent millions every year (a lot of money in those days). One call between the managing directors of the two companies effectively "killed" that story.

Then there was the time that a prominent reporter at one of Kenya's leading dailies died from Aids. There was panic at the newspaper and some very senior management staff at the paper almost went crazy. It emerged that there was a lot of "sleeping around" within the newspaper and the female reporter had hit the sack with a list that was effectively the who is who in that newspaper's top management team. Luckily there were only one other person who dies at the newspaper that could be linked to this sex scandal. But then Aids is said to have an incubation period of years, so let's give it another five years or so to make a conclusion on this one.

Talking of sex scandals, there is this very well known radio queen in Nairobi who shares a bed regularly with the owner of the station. Other staff members have noted that she is extremely powerful. By the way this particular radio outfit is viewed as very professionally run, so the big question is it possible for a management team to remain professional and focused when key members, some of them married are hopping into bed with each other. Many will say that it happens all the time. My belief is that inevitably cracks will emerge and maybe even crisis. One of the major things that brought down the mighty Roman empire was immorality.

Reporters usually get news by being sent out to cover press conferences and various functions that their news editor lines up for them. There are some politicians in Kenya who have understood this system for generating news very well and have compromised it. There are major politicians in Kenya today who rose to prominence by making sure that reporters would never miss their press conferences. They did this by issuing special "press releases" at the end of each press conference. These "press releases" rather than being statements from their good offices were actually small brown envelope containing cash. Kenyan reporters have been receiving them for years. The giver usually dismisses them as "transport money" or "soda money". Reporters laugh about it in news rooms and talk quietly (where the editor is unaware) about "press release" amounts dished out.

At times reporters have quietly pocketed the money and then editors have later reworked their story so that the final result ends up painting the reporter in negative light. You can understand why politicians sometimes get very angry as a result of newspaper articles. Sometimes they have spent money.

For years this blogger used to supply exclusive business stories to the daily newspapers. At one point, I had a detailed analysis to prove that the Uchumi Supermarket chain was in a serious financial crisis. I delivered my story but it was never used. Various excuses were given from lack of space to the story not having enough details. Later I discovered that the editor in question was a very close friend of the Uchumi Manager at the centre of the cash crisis.

(To be continued Next week with more shocking media scandals and little known secrets. Subscribe to my free email newsletter now and I'll alert you the minute I publish stories in this series on the Kenyan media scandals. This fascinating series will run for weeks to come. To receive my newsletter, send a blank email now to KUMEKUCHA-SUBSCRIBE@YAHOOGROUPS.COM)

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