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Kenya's journalists vie to make up for years without a free press

The country's journalists aren't wasting time getting to the tough questions or putting politicians and businessmen under a microscope.

By Correspondent / April 11, 2011

The controlroom at NTV, one of Kenya's leading news broadcasters.

Brendan Bannon

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Nairobi, Kenya

This post is part of the Daily Dispatch project chronicling life in Nairobi, Kenya throughout the month of April.

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The red digits on the clock on the newsroom wall climb steadily towards 10:30 a.m. Guys in shirtsleeves thumbing BlackBerrys march past to meetings. Desk phones peal.

A plasma TV shows a smiling Kenyan politician spilling out of a shiny Mercedes by a smart office block 4,000 miles away in Europe.

He is one of six men accused by the world’s war crimes court of organizing election violence here three years ago. He and two others will appear before judges in Holland for the first time this morning.

It’s going to be a busy day for Robert Nagila, a news reporter here at NTV, one of Kenya’s leading television channels.

Bounding down the stairs, cameraman Steve Mwei three steps behind him, Nagila is heading to Nairobi’s tea shops, to watch Kenyans watch the proceedings, gauging what he calls “the mood of the people.”

A short dash across the city and we’re in Lowi’s Place, a fried food joint in downtown Nairobi. Customers sit glued to the television. Ekaterina Trendafilova, the court’s presiding judge, reels off the accusations – murder, forcibly transferring people, persecution.

Nagila’s there, on his feet, recording a piece to camera, before sitting to interview Ambrose Muga, Lowi’s owner. He barely pauses as a plate clatters to the floor in the kitchen. A dozen questions later, we whirlwind out the door.

Round the corner, a security guard bars us from filming an economics student Nagila spotted watching the court appearances streaming live to his Nokia smartphone. That would make a great bite in his report.

For the first time, Nagila is brought to a stop. A frown. A deep breath. “I’d hate to miss this,” he says to the student, John Kihumba. He looks up and down the street. Pauses again. The frown lifts.

A minute later, Kihumba’s being interviewed under a tree in a nearby parking lot, away from the guard’s reach. “What are your expectations of the case?”. “Can it really be an end to impunity for people accused of election crimes?” “What will happen next, do you think?”.

Even in the taxi back to the office, Nagila’s relentless. He takes Mwei’s camera and starts grilling the driver, the same questions, in Kiswahili this time.

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