Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Review: Journalist Philip Ochieng is accusing the African press

Title: I Accuse the Press: An insider’s View of the Media and Politics in Africa
Author: Philip Ochieng
Publisher: Initiatives Publisher, 1992
Genre: Non-fiction (Academic)
Pages: 210
Reviewer: Manuel Odeny

the slightly truculent and bellicose tone of Philip Ochieng’s I Accuse the Press is attributed to the muse during the 1979 course for New International Information Order by UNESCO to try an rectify the one sided flow f information from the West to Africa and other developing countries. The former counties have been reported negatively with most media content coming from the West.

By then Ochieng was a sub-editor at Daily Nation.

In the book’s introduction the author notes his anger at his colleagues who took side with the western world.

It’s this basis that among my university shelves I found the book standing out in western media books as an insider’s view of the African press.

During my undergraduate media and communication course work I found the book appealing in the state of African press, freedom on press, editorial control by owners and government, light into government/party newspapers and most importantly the dearth journalism skills on practioners.

As a start up reporter in 1966 for Nation the Kenyan author ended up working in major papers in three East African countries of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda as columnist, reporter and editor. Interestingly, his work made Ochieng to end up in acronymous situations with colleagues and a guest of the state in Kenya and Uganda.

In Uganda he was arrested within weeks of editing a government paper while the Kenyan government could not comprehend him linking it with the Entebbe raid by Israelis in Target magazine in 1976.

This stints and his studies made him be viewed as a communist during the height of the West and East –ism schism and saw him prevented from writing in local dailies in 1975.

Though banned his writing skills saw him co-author with Joseph Karimi a successful book Kenyatta Succession.

This author’s expense knowledge, experience and life as an African journalist while still writing two columns for Nation that makes him an authority in African press, but not a saint (as I have pointed at the end of this review).

I Accuse the Press is divided into six chapters, the first ‘Enemies of the press’ is a talk on new international information order and place of press in Africa as either an ally r enemy of the people or the government. In this chapter the author is aided by historical account of African press and philosophical views from communication researchers like Wilbur Schramm.

He next two chapters written from the author’s own experience shows how even when a small freedom of expression exists there is a constant risk of clump-don by governments afraid of nay criticism, and censorship by proxy on the editorial content by media owners. Ochieng notes the thin skin of political leaders on criticism and their poor briefing to local press at the expense of foreign press curtails media growth in Africa.

The following chapter and most scathing in accusing the African press is the dearth of journalistic ability to manipulate their tools of trade like language, style, knowledge and intellectual implement. As a book worm, the author chides journalists who never read and research, and instead opt for shallow reporting.

In this chapter too, Ochieng decries tribalism and stinginess in the Kenyan press that makes journalistic training to be poor for fear of poaching between the media houses and shifting of poorly paid reporters to public relations. He observes:

“You can teach a potential hunter how to wield his spear and aim it unmistakably at an animal. But if you do not at the same time teach him what kind of animal to aim his spear at with the greatest benefit to his tribe (Africa), he may as well jolly aim at a member of his clan” he writes n even western educated African journalists.

On the other hand the second last chapter looks at government ownership of press like the now defunct Kenya Times which the author was the Editor in chief in 1988-91. Though humanely conceived by governments to the citizens notes the failure of the government paper as in other African is due to social, economic, political, technological and intellectual problems.

The last chapter checks the rise and fall of indigenous media empire Stellascope publishing company owned by Hillary Ngweno making the author conclude the working of an African journalist should never be constrained by indigenous, foreign state or commercial ownership in advocating for the continent’s total strategic interests.

Good for Africa, but….

Though written before 1922 which my lock out readers not well versed with the region’s history plus the author’s writing style of using ‘heavy’ vocabulary I would recommend it if one needs an insight in regional press since Ochieng is a walking encyclopedia in this. This was evident during the 50 years celebration of Daily Nation by the author’s insightful articles.

The experience f the author as a journalist and the angle he takes in media is relevant especially with press freedom in Africa as a mirage with factors like technology and illiteracy keeping major populace in dark. I found such lines helpful since I personally think (though dissent) that the fourth estate mantra never exists in Africa.

I also like how ‘smooth faced’ journalist in the acknowledgement and within the book became today media geezers with a mark in the industry like Lucy Oriang’, Tom Mshindi, Austin Bukenya, Henry Chakava, Wangethi Mwangi, Salim Lone, Joseph Odindo, Benjamin Mkapa (Former Tanzanian president) to name just a few.

The book with the major changes in the media scene needs to be revised to capture tics like ICT change, entry of new players and how media situation in Africa is since the 1980s UNESCO  push is still a staus quo.

My only reservation with the book is the forward by Dr. Calestous Juma which places the author on a pedestal as a ‘saint’ in the media. I find these offhand since the book is based n the author’s personal experience which since are based n controversies some personalities like Goerge Githii are portrayed negatively.
Though the forward states that ‘the book invokes an Olympian image that is worth recounting’ it doesn’t make the author a saint pointing out at the African press in any way. This thought is in the light of Philip Ochieng’s column Fifth columnist after the Mr. Bosire’s commission on Goldenberg scandal by the KANU government implicated him of getting Ksh. 250,000. He writes:

“Hypocrisy is a sin more deadly than Goldenberg. I would be a hypocrite to say I have never committed it. But it is agonizing to be wrongly accused of it….the Bosire commission affirms that Goldenberg paid me (K)sh.250,000. Let me not deny it. Indeed, Mr. Bosire’s figure may be conservative. When I worked for president Moi as editor of The Kenyan Times, he sometimes shoved a few thousand quid into my pocket.”

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