Local Media on the Right Direction in the War against Extremism in KenyaBy Fredrick Ogenga // Friday, December 23, 2016
On September 11, 2016, three women bluffed their way into Mombasa’s police station before stabbing an officer, setting off a petrol bomb, and being shot dead in the ensuing firefight. One of the women was wearing a suicide vest that did not detonate. The attack, which has been widely covered in Kenyan media, serves as an excellent test case for the kind of reporting required on issues of extremism and terrorism in Africa, particularly terrorism carried out by women. It was a perfect laboratory to begin bisecting the salience of Africa-centric methodologies of reporting terrorism that I have argued for.
Terrorists rely on publicity and news coverage of their actions, and the kind of reporting we have witnessed in the local and global media time and again in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Kenya and elsewhere, only works to create fear, anxiety and hysteria. That is why it is important to deny terrorists the publicity they seek.
A Susceptible Media
Media organizations are usually at the center of concern because the media serves the needs of “the free market” and audiences. For private mass media organizations, news is a product with a value that is sold the same way Coca-Cola is sold in a convenience store. The rationale is that the media has to sell papers and in turn, sell audiences to advertisers in order to survive as an industry in a capital-oriented system of production and consumption. Essentially, to follow this train of argument, the media ordinarily serves the interests of the free market.
Beyond that, the media also plays a major role in the production and reproduction of culture and the cultural values that shape morality. Its product cannot be compared with soft drinks in this way, because the media is a trendsetter and agenda-setter. What is produced by the media should not be taken for granted, given its potency to reproduce discourses that could significantly change societal arrangements as we know it today. Terrorists across the world understand and use the power of the media for political communication very well.
The Role of the Media in Exposing Terrorism
After the Mombasa incident, I have observed and analyzed coverage in the Standard and the Daily Nation, two of Kenya’s largest newspapers, and it is refreshing to see the media running follow-up stories of the incident. Media organizations are revealing fresh background information about the three female terrorists who were killed, as well as other arrested suspects currently facing court trials.
Media reporting on terrorism that is creative and thorough can help discourage further acts. When a person guilty of an act of terrorism is convicted and sentenced through the legal system, the media can highlight the process of justice and the rewards and punishments to offer moral lessons to their readers. Exposing terrorists in this manner would also help the public become aware of terrorists among them, in the spirit of community policing. The Mombasa incidence provides an opportunity to de-Westernize journalism in Africa in the context of the surge of terrorism and applying reporting styles that speak truth to African realities on the ground.
Fredrick Ogenga, Ph.D., is a Southern Voices Network Scholar for Peacebuilding at the Wilson Center from September to November 2016. He is the Head of Department of Communication, Journalism and Media Studies, Rongo University and the Founding Director, Center for Media, Democracy, Peace and Security (CMDPS), a member organization of the Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding.
What We’re Tweeting
- The Media and Election-Related Violence in Africa: Lessons from Kenya March 27, 2017
- CANCELED: A Conversation with the Foreign Minister of Nigeria, H.E. Geoffrey Onyeama March 15, 2017
- Sudans Working Group: A Private Discussion with His Excellency Professor Ibrahim Ahmed Omer, Speaker of Parliament of the Republic of the Sudan March 1, 2017