MEDIA REPORTING

In defence of the truth

In Summary

• By any reasonable standards, Uhuru’s visit was an unqualified success, producing three significant agreements with the Chinese government.

• Instead of hearing about these successes (from which we will all benefit), the public has been subject to what amounts to a misinformation campaign intended to convince the public that the visit was a specular and humiliating waste of time and taxpayer money.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday, April 27, 2019
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday, April 27, 2019
Image: PSCU

There was a time when the truth reigned supreme. When facts were unquestionable. When there was a value to honesty.

A time when media outlets clearly differentiated between news and opinion; when anonymous sources were not taken at face value, and when stories were verified before they went to print. A time when the public trusted the information they read in the newspaper and heard on TV and radio.

A time before ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’. Before trolling and Twitter bots.

 

It was a time dominated by Winston Churchill’s old adage, that “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

It was this simpler time that our President was referring to in his comments in Beijing, when he chastised the ladies and gentlemen of the Kenyan media with the damning line, “Why don’t you people just represent the true facts?”

The viewer could see the annoyance on the face of the President, usually such a calm and patient man. And who can blame him? After all, leaders used to be held to straightforward standards. You deliver, people acknowledge your achievements. You fail, people point out your flaws.

On the surface, this is all so obvious. Yet the reality in which Uhuru inhabits could not be more different.

Take the last week for example.

It began with the announcement from Treasury  CS Henry Rotich that in 2018, our economy grew by 6.3 per cent, its fastest pace for eight years, and that a similar performance is projected for 2019. This growth rate exceeded the expectations of the Treasury and the World Bank, which projected six per cent and 5.8 per cent respectively. What’s more, it put Kenya in the top 15 countries economic performers in the world for 2018 in terms of growth.

These impressive growth figures formed the backdrop for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s hotly contested trip to China for the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, along with dozens of other heads of state.

 

By any reasonable standards, Uhuru’s visit was an unqualified success, producing three significant agreements with the Chinese government: A ground-breaking deal to export Kenyan avocados and other agricultural products to China (the biggest market in the world, lest we forget); a funding agreement for the Technopolis Konza Data Centre and smart city outside Nairobi; and the agreement to build a new, modern motorway from Nairobi’s international airport to the city.

But unfortunately, Uhuru is not judged by reasonable standards. Instead of hearing about these successes (from which we will all benefit), the public has been subject to what amounts to a misinformation campaign intended to convince the public that the visit was a specular and humiliating waste of time and taxpayer money.

This is not just a Kenyan phenomenon, but a global one. It used to be the case that elections finished with the counting of votes, and then the entire public (including the losing parties) united behind the victor, well aware of the simple fact that his success would be their success.

But we live in increasingly partisan times, when politicians and their supporters struggle to put aside personal rivalries and ambitions for the benefit of the nation. In the US this is known as the ‘permanent campaign’. Within this reality (or dystopia as many people see it), the political battle is never-ending. Election Day is no longer final. It is simply the first day of the next campaign.

Media outlets enjoy this new reality because it gets clicks. Just as when you drive past a car crash you cannot help but look, people like to read criticism. Controversy and arguments get more attention than policy and praise. This is the sad reality of the world today.

But just because this is the case, it doesn’t mean we should all accept it. As active citizens, we must become sophisticated consumers of news, learning to distinguish accurate reporting from fake news and hyper-partisan content. We must learn to prioritise fact over opinion, and sober analysis over ‘click bait’ headlines.

We owe this to ourselves, we owe it to our society and if we are being honest with ourselves, we also owe it to our president.

One of the most famous teachings of the Buddha states that “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

Our job is to bring the truth to light.

Igembe North MP