Why BBC ‘Spy Queen’ film sparked mockery

It not only embarrassed Kenyans but led to global ridicule

In Summary

• Viewers felt the documentary was unprofessional, scornful and unnecessary

Jane Mugo at a Nairobi court
Jane Mugo at a Nairobi court

I fell in love with journalism a long time ago. By the time I was in high school, my career path was already decided. On the very first day of my Introduction to Broadcast Journalism class at university, the lecturer asked, “Who here wants to be an anchor?” Some people raised their hands. “Well, you are in the wrong place.”

The teacher went on to explain that anyone trained to read a prompter could be an anchor. However, journalism was the grunt work; the hard work behind the scenes that made the anchors shine. I was fortunate enough to be taught and mentored by Joe Kadhi, the godfather of print media. His most-used quote to us was, “Publish and be damned!”

Kadhi was revered, feared and persecuted for his bold reporting. A style of journalism that has since perished. In today’s word, journalists are anchoring with a twang’ accent, reporting on sensational news items and based in biased media houses. It is easy to know which media house has sided with which political allies from the way they shape and distort news.  

The ‘journalists’ consider themselves celebrities in Kenya. They become hot topics when their personal lives are plastered all over the Internet. They use their ‘fame’ to promote their side hustles. Some even used their journalism careers as a stepping stone that leads them into careers in public service.

Meanwhile, we had a glimmer of hope in the choice of Kenyan correspondents for foreign media houses. We believed the likes of CNN, DW and BBC to be above the publicity stunts and shenanigans because they believed in real journalism. However, it turns out that they, too, will hire anyone who agrees to make Kenya look like a foolish country to the global community. 

A couple of weeks ago, Sharon Machira produced a documentary for BBC Africa Eye that turned out to be an embarrassment to the county. The documentary, titled Kenya’s ‘Spy Queen’ Private Detective Jane Mugo, was a featurette on the controversial self-appointed private detective. The Mockumentary, as it ought to be titled, was a 27-minute mortifying coverage of Jane Mugo's ridiculous spy life. Mugo was seen acting out scenes from an action film, flailing her body on camera before falling flat on her ass, as she was unable to support herself. According to Mugo, she is a certified Tae-kwon-do martial artist. She has since earned her well-deserved nickname, Jane Bond.

As we know, Kenyans hardly ever agree on anything, but they took to social media to mock at the ludicrous documentary. The consensus among Kenyan viewers was that the documentary was unprofessional, scornful and unnecessary. The fact that BBC aired it meant the entire world saw it. Not only were we embarrassed as Kenyans at such a representation but we were also ridiculed on a global scale!

That brings me back to the so-called journalists who spent months preparing for this interview and months after to edit and finalise the video before submitting it to their supervisor. In all that time that they took to edit this video, nobody spoke up against the idiosyncrasies of the content. Unless the crew and journalist involved were fully aware and understood the consequences of releasing such footage but did it anyway.

Fortunately, Machira and others will continue making such poor content as she is among the many journalists who have turned news coverage into Telenovelas. Hard-hitting news items are ‘outdated’. The days of shark-baiting exposés have been replaced by viewership-baiting stories. Nobody wants to cross a powerful politician the wrong way. Nobody wants to deliver hard-hitting stories anymore. Nobody is ready to publish and be damned.

Kenya has a real version of the spy James Bond, and her name is Jane. Detective Jane Mugo is the country’s most famous and controversial private investigator. She says she’s solved hundreds of crimes, but some say she writes her own rules. This is the inside story of the woman they call Kenya’s 'Spy Queen.'

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