It had been a bad habit which had been passed down from generation to generation of journalists in Kenya; trying to absolve and sanitize police excesses in their reporting. It is, no doubt, a culture that traces its origin back to the single-party rule days, when the country was under autocratic leadership, and the only media house that was in operation was KBC which was government owned, and thus consequently, a government mouthpiece.
The practice was identical each time. A peaceful procession would be held, agitating for some civil liberty such as multipartism, reduced deforestation, or a new constitution, but then truckloads of heavily armed antiriot policemen would march in unprovoked and disrupt the proceedings. Not only would they lob teargas, but then go ahead to whip, club and even use rubber bullets, or in some extreme cases, live fire, in an effort to disperse the protestors. Surprisingly, whenever such incidents were reported during the night time news, a tampered version of events would be delivered. It wouldn’t be reported that it was the police who interrupted peaceful demonstrations, but rather, it was the protestors who provoked the passive law enforcers, forcing them to use teargas, and despite the fact that ever since the opening up of civil liberties with the advent of multipartism in the early 90s, which saw private media houses being established, and operate in unrestrictive spaces, the infamous line, “police were forced to use teargas” had continued to be used by news reporters, and anchors.
Perhaps a mechanical mode of operation, imprinted in journalists’ psyche after decades of doing the same thing over and over again.
Nevertheless, on 27th of March this year, the day on which the restrictions that had been imposed by the president following the Corona virus outbreak in the country came in to force, the incidents that unfolded have since seen media houses across the spectrum change their usual wording of events.
On that chaotic day, not only were journalists teargassed alongside the terrified citizens, but one ntv journalist was infamously roughed up. Images of Nation Media Group cameraman Peter Wainaina being assaulted by an Administration Policeman definitely struck a nerve with our fourth estate.
Since then, whenever the media is reporting on police action concerning demonstrations, they don’t struggle to unnecessarily portray the police in good light, but rather try to be factual.