By James Smart
This week’s newsletter is continuing the tradition of inviting members of our community to write From The Curator’s Desk, and for this edition I’m happy to hand over to my friend and colleague James Smart, broadcast journalist, news anchor, podcast editor at Nation.Africa, and host of talk show ‘With All Due Respect’ on Kenya’s television station NTV. I’ll be handing over this section of the newsletter to my fellow colleagues and to Baraza members from time to time, please do reach out to me if you’re interested in writing this section and you have something of interest to share to our community, a trend you’ve noticed or something you want us to think about.
~ Christine Mungai, Curator
I currently host a current-affairs show on NTV titled ‘With All Due Respect’, on the socials as #WADR. Immediately my show went on air a couple of months ago, my producers and I got inundated with requests from analysts who offered to explain and commentate on current political trends. They relentlessly pitched topics such as “the bottom-up economic approach” “why BBI is important” “Uhuru’s legacy” and “Ruto the candidate”, and so on. You will agree these are timely topical debates, but if we are honest, they would make some pretty boring TV.
Booking guests for TV shows isn’t the easiest thing. You have to ask around, call a few times, and persuade people to come on the show. But it seems things have changed dramatically since the last time I was on TV. I wondered how analysts were suddenly available to comment on all topics at the drop of a hat. Until we remembered it’s political season, and the dance is just beginning.
In the next few weeks and months, radio stations, television screens, and newspaper columns will be filled with ‘experts’ providing analysis on virtually everything and anything under the sun. The so-called political analysts flock to the political shows and feed the public with their seemingly innocent perspective. Question is, who pays for these analysts’ time?
The simple answer is the political class pays for these analysts. This, in my view, is one of the most insidious political tools that is ever employed in Kenyan politics: paid-for public opinion. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish genuine expert analysis from paid-for sloganeering. Nothing is for free.
With social media now being part of political communication and campaigns, we already know of the existence of ‘bloggers-for-hire’ and the many pseudo accounts employed to push trends, and by extension, muddy the waters of public opinion.
We always forget it is in the interest of politicians to manage how we – the public – think, what we think, and even when we think.
As a journalist and news anchor, I must admit that the Kenyan media is operating with an outdated toolbox that is unable to deal with the fast-paced political strategy industry. The usual ways of booking guests, which is based on hunches and who’s easy to get – we tend to book those people who simply come to mind – has to change. It’s been too compromised.
Political strategists and their tactics are changing faster than we – the media – are. The methods employed to control the minds of Kenyan voters has always been reinventing itself. In 2013, the Jubilee campaign hired Cambridge Analytica, who mined data of Kenyans and soiled debates for the 2013 elections. In the years since, cynical disinformation, propaganda, and cyber warfare is becoming more frequent and more sophisticated.
So, why should we care about this phenomenon?
If we allow the free reign of paid-for public opinion analysts, we lose the idea of truth in policy and politics. We have seen it happen before and I fear it will happen again.
In the meantime here’s:
- What I’m Reading: I’m actually re-reading The Godfather by Mario Puzo. My best quote at the moment: “Lawyers can steal more money with a briefcase than a thousand men with guns and masks.”
- What I’m Watching: This Is Pop, a docuseries on Netflix. I was fascinated by Sweden’s role in the production of top hits in the world. It’s one of those things you just would never have guessed, seriously.
- What I’m Listening To: The True Spies podcast: true stories told by true spies. The things that occupy nations are both complex and absurd, and most often than not plans don’t actually pan out the way we expect them to.