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Testimonial by Otsieno Namwaya, Fellow, AfriCOG Investigative Journalism Fellowship
Reading through the newspaper advertisement calling for applications to the investigative journalism fellowship, the idea looked eye catching, yet so easy to ignore. In the words of some of my professional colleagues that I consulted, what would any experienced journalist gain from such a programme? But then, I wondered, isn't there just so much one would gain professionally by simply taking time off routine schedule, concentrating on a subject ofinterest without regular newsroom pressures and deadlines, get time to delve deeper into an issue than the usual run of the mill story and yet still get an additional dime for it? The experience of writing about corruption, whether in government or outside government, often intrigued me.
It often struck me like, in Kenya, there is always a missing link to the media crusade against corruption. Who, for instance, would ever write anything credible and authoritative regarding the usual juicy after work musings by journalists about who paid what to kill what story; whose press conferences journalists crave for and why; how journalists in Kenya relate to news sources and what role the old adage "he who pays the piper calls the tune" plays in the orientation of news or simply the treatment of stories? Somebody will have to do it some day and I had the burning desire for just that. To me, the close to six months I spent pursuing this story was an eye opener. I had, for example, thought that I knew enough about corruption in the media, but then it turned out what I knew was less than five percentage of what actually there is in the media.
Further, when I sat down to write the story of my findings, I realized at the end of it that I had only used about 10 percent of what I had collected. Part of this was, of course, because of care not to infringe on individual liberties, privacy or even due to the inhibitions of Kenya's stringendy applied libel laws. But the main reason was that, first, there was just not enough time to pursue each lead to its conclusive end. The other reason was that, unlike the regular news sources that I have been accustomed to, journalists turned out to be more thin skinned than I had imagined. Those mentioned adversely declined to even pick or return calls, became outright hostile and even issued threats. Others went a step further and issued immediate threats to their "client sources" against talking to me. This meant that I would on numerous occasions receive calls from informers pleading that I should not use the information they had willingly given.
For this reason, the most notorious cases of media corruption that I came across have not been told in these pieces. There are two aspects of corruption in the media, therefore, that need to be further explored in greater detail. First is what I call the story of the lords of media corruption -the really big timers who rake more money from bribery and retainers from sources than their actual salaries, and they are known by nearly every journalist worth his salt. Each media house has its share of this type -they enjoy a certain aura and influence within the media. The second aspect about which there is so much, yet both the innocent informers and culprits talk about it only in hushed tones, is the type of corruption that exists between police and the so called crime reporters. I have just scratched the surface of this matter, and I suspect it will take long before someone can come up who will tell the real story of corruption between police and journalists whether what crime reporters give to readers is the truth or just carefully planted propaganda by police. It has been a learning experience for me, a huge one, and I wish that more people take the opportunity to delve into subjects of their interest away from the pressures of the newsroom."
Fellow, AfriCOG Investigative Journalism Fellowship