Was SA vs Israel case coverage killed by ‘order from above’?

It was strange how Kenyan newspapers gave the story a blackout

In Summary

• The case was being streamed live with obvious appeal but nobody reported on it

Image: OZONE

I was horrified last week to open the e-editions of Friday’s newspapers only to find that the Kenyan media seemed to have completely ignored what I would have thought would be the biggest foreign news story of the day.

That story was South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands against Israel for what SA claimed were "genocidal acts" in Gaza.

The only e-paper edition I saw with the story was the Daily Nation,  which buried the story on page 25 of 55. 

The story was relegated to the second page of world news and the reporting was left to the French News Agency.

I would have thought that as the case was being streamed live, a reporter or even the foreign news editor might have been assigned to report the case, but no such luck.

In the other newspapers, it was as though the matter in the Hague had never even happened.

I have been trying to understand what happened, and in talking to various people, it would seem that the newspapers were leaned on by the Israeli embassy or their agents to give the story a blackout.

I am hoping that this is not what happened and that there is a plausible explanation for the blackout, but I have a feeling no convincing reason will be revealed.

If it was censorship of some sort, it reminded me of 1989, when I was first starting out as a reporter. Press censorship was a fact of life in Kenya, where “orders from above” could kill a news story.

In those single-party days, newspapers and magazines could be banned for rubbing the authorities the wrong way. 

I remember, for instance, a magazine called the Financial Review having to fight to have a ban ordered by the Attorney General lifted.

The AG at the time was Justice Mathew Muli, and he was either acting on orders from the government of President Daniel arap Moi or of his own volition in a sycophantic bid to please his bosses.

According to AG Muli, the Financial Review had been carrying “mischievous stories” that were putting the government in a bad light, and a ban would protect the public from such mischief.

In June the same year, Kalonzo Musyoka, who was Deputy Speaker of Parliament and a rising star in the then ruling party, Kanu, encouraged his fellow MPs to ban the Nation newspaper from covering Parliament.

Kalonzo and his fellow MPs charged that the Nation had failed to "correctly" report Parliamentary affairs.

The paper was also accused of ridiculing MPs, sowing "discontent" and showing disrespect for the policies of President Moi, a crime considered to be just below blasphemy in those bad old days.

The following year, on July 7, 1990, the day of the first Saba Saba protests calling for multi-party democracy in Kenya, I was caught up in a situation that illustrated state censorship of the press, but also how that censorship was being challenged.

The editors of the three main Sunday newspapers each received calls from State House that evening, telling them not to cover the riots or at the very worst, to play them down so as not to embarrass the government.

Of the three newspapers, two were independent and one, the Sunday Times, where I worked, was owned by Kanu, the country’s only party.

While the Sunday Nation and the Sunday Standard ignored the pressure from State House and splashed the stories and pictures all over the papers, the Sunday Times, under editor-in-chief Philip Ochieng, bowed to pressure and withdrew all the stories and pictures of the riots from the paper, making it appear as though nothing had happened that fateful Saturday.

When the world did not end because the Nation and Standard carried the reports, the Times tried to catch up the following day, but they had already lost the trust of even more readers, and we who worked there had to work very hard to regain that trust.

Follow me on X @MwangiGithahu

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