John Allan Namu Speaks on Space for TV Journalism in Kenya
21st November is World Television day. To Celebrate the day, we spoke to Investigative TV journalist John Allan About Kenya’s Shrinking Media Freedoms.
“Getting angry about it. Angry enough to want some truth to come out’’ That was John Allan- Namu’s response when I asked him what his motivation for doing investigative journalism was.
Today, John Allan Namu is one of Kenya’s most respected investigative TV journalists. He’s won many awards. I met him at his new office, where he recently started off as an independent investigative journalist.
A Background of TV viewership in Kenya
There’s a common experience many who grew up with Mr. Namu in Kenya in the 1990’s share. It’s the excitement of watching your favourite TV show, most likely at your well of neighbour’s house.
In Kenya back then, a TV set was not a common household item. It was a preserve of a few privileged families.
Apart from secretly watching soap operas our parents had banned us from, there’s one more memory that stays.
TV news always started off with the detailed narration of the then President Daniel Moi’s itinerary. The state broadcaster, KBC, was the only TV station everyone would watch for free.
There has been rapid, almost drastic change in both TV content and viewership in Kenya.
John Allan Namu was one of the journalist who started off their work at a time when private media was enjoying the blossoming freedom and profits.
Drastic Growth for Commercial TV Stations
After the 2003 election, the government’s liberisation of the airwaves meant more TV stations were licensed. TV set ownership had also grown by large. This meant more audiences.
TV journalism had a chance to grow by leaps. Privately owned TV station grew bolder in their news coverage.
Investigative journalism was born in an era when Kenyan democracy had a sense of great achievement.
It was after the 2003 peaceful transfer of power from President Moi’s 24 year rule to the popular President Kibaki government.
Media freedoms was largely recognised by the public and upheld in law. Opinion polls showed the media was a trusted institution.
The Bold Investigative Reporter
John Allan Namu was a young journalist. He worked alongside his famous colleague Mohammed Ali to report exposes that were a national must watch.
With their signature voices and ground breaking stories, John Allan Namu and his colleagues garnered an authoritative approach to TV journalism. The public rallied behind their work.
Their audience was growing fast. In fact, some of their long investigative documentaries were pirated and sold at local markets.
Mr. Namu’s journalistic work put government on its toes. From corruption scandals to mysterious murder cases, nothing escaped John’s cameras and script.
‘’The media believes that there is a beast to be fed, the beast being the public’’ John says. “The demand for public interest reporting is there.” He added.
Kenyans want to hold their leaders accountable. But there is a new challenge.
According to Mr. Namu it is difficult to balance public interest journalism with both political and commercial influence within the privately owned TV stations.
Most of the private TV stations rely on profits to pay journalists. Some stations are owned by politicians. This influences editorial content in a great way.
For any journalist, there is a thin line between keeping your job and being daring enough to expose big wigs in your investigative report.
John Allan Namu’s Advice to Journalists.
Mr. Namu says, “It’s not time to give up just yet, some of the hostility towards media is real but some is perception. A lot of people have lost the game before they even played by assuming that their media houses won’t sponsor a story, or that government will be too critical , or that business interest will interfere. So they don’t even try. But I have tried and succeed. However I left my job because I felt the space for doing that was shrinking.’’
Mr. Namu has since started his own production house, Africa Uncensored. He specialises in investigative journalism.
What About Media Freedom?
Mr Namu believes there is a deliberate move by the government to curtail freedoms.
According to him, the media is often targeted when in focuses to corruption, security and legislation issues.
He added that the integrity of journalism has also suffered due to poor standards.
And when I asked John for his parting shot, he said “The government must stop seeing the media as their enemy, and media must stop seeing themselves as subject to the whims of government.’’
Author: Frenny Jowi