When police chief David Kimaiyo fired his now
famous salvo at the media, the remaining jigsaw
puzzle fell into place.
Those in the know must have earlier been puzzled
that the love affair between the Fourth Estate and
the Executive could continue to blossom even in the
face of the Westgate terrorist attack. No romantic
bubble between the government and the media ever
fails to burst the moment terrorism comes into the
Journalists and terrorists have a symbiotic
relationship. Stories about terror sell to avid
audiences, while they generate the publicity craved
by terrorists. Terrorism only makes sense when its
targets are selected for maximum propaganda and
publicity value.
But the ethical aspect of this unintended complicity
is always a dilemma. There is no way of avoiding this
convergence of interests. As Margaret Thatcher once
declared, “publicity is the oxygen of terrorism”.
So in accusing the media of flirting with terrorists, Mr
Kimaiyo — and I think he should allow the police
spokesman to work — was walking a well-trodden
When Boko Haram first struck, Nigerian authorities
too argued the media sensationalised the attacks,
making the militants achieve their objective of
getting wide publicity to instil maximum fear.
At first, the Executive’s concerns seem noble. Kenya
is experiencing terror of the Westgate magnitude for
the first time, so there is the temptation to view it as
peculiar to this country.
Sooner or later, someone in authority will even hold
the media responsible for Al-Shabaab attacks, and
accuse them of being the greatest impediment in the
war against terrorism. That would be myopic.
The government must be told to hold its horses for
the simple reason that terrorism happens before the
media record its consequences.
And even as the terrorists seek publicity, the
government too, seeks to downplay the
consequences, often through ill-crafted propaganda.
You probably remember the tale about KDF soldiers
being ordered to fetch mineral water. All these
should be weighed against the reporters’ cherished
guiding news value: the truth.
Moreover, it has not been established that publicity
alone is the driving force of terrorists. Poverty and
historical injustices including racial, ethnic, religious
and class discrimination have similarly been cited.
If the media report terror attacks, they are only
acting within the confines of their professional
mandate. It would be irresponsible to convey the
impression that they provide sufficient conditions for
terrorism to thrive.
Even the journalists themselves have never been
spared whenever terrorists execute their evil
schemes. The Westgate terrorists, for example, did
not spare TV and radio journalist Ruhila Adatia.
If the government wants less of the terrorist reports,
it must do more to fight terror, and prevent terrorists
from succeeding and being reported.
Even if we were to agree that there are bound to be
some excesses, given the advent of social media,
these affect all spheres of life, including societal
morals. It is not limited to terrorism.
Someone please tell the Executive that this is not the
time to divorce the Fourth Estate. The Press will
always reserve a special place for the Executive, even
as it flirts with terrorists. Marriages are supposed to
be for better or for worse.

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