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.
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It’s almost a relief to see him disappear off into the edit suite to craft his package for the NTV at 1 bulletin, which the red digits on the clock tell us starts in 28 minutes.Skip to next paragraph
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Nagila, 38, is one of a new breed of newsmen and women flexing their journalistic muscles as Kenya’s once repressive media landscape opens up.
Under Daniel Arap Moi, the former president, "news" was a rundown of what the leader did that day. Critical voices were silenced, and journalists were cowed by the threat of sanction from timid press owners.
Today FM radio stations clog airwaves. There are eight television stations, up from just two in 2000. At least five daily newspapers have print runs in the tens of thousands with circulations growing at up to 6 percent a year. The Daily Nation, NTV’s sister paper, prints 200,000 copies each day.
And the gloves are coming off. Front pages rarely shy away from blasting broadsides against caught-out politicians or businessmen. News bulletins are peppered with political analysis. Everyone is fair game.
Because of this, Kenyan technicians, producers, cameramen and reporters schooled in post-graduate courses overseas are flocking home to queue for jobs.
“It’s all changed completely,” Nagila told me during a rare still moment. “At first we had to grope around a bit, not sure of how far we could push it. But we’re still pushing those boundaries.”
Born in Kenya, educated in Britain, Nagila returned to Nairobi in 1999 to try to break into radio. “I was always way too curious as a kid, always taught by my parents to question everything,” he said. “Journalism was the natural job for me.”
Working his way up through radio, he is now one of the pool of television reporters at NTV. His investigations into the brutal mungiki sect, a mafia-like protection racket based in Nairobi’s slums, earned him both death threats and awards.
Nagila reappears from the edit suite. The 28 minutes are up. In the studio, Peninah Karibe, the NTV at 1 anchor, perches herself on her stool against the blue-screen backdrop.
In the control room next door, before a bank of monitors, phones ring with final running-order changes. Nagila’s “mood of the people” package is slotted in at the last minute.
Allan Kiprop, the director of news, clicks his fingers. The countdown starts, 10 seconds, nine, eight, seven. On the clock on the wall, the red digits mount steadily to 1:00 p.m.