opinionBy Koigi Wamwere
Some people don't want to hear radio stations like Sauti Ya Mwananchi criticising their favourite leaders. They consider them flawless, that they never err and should they do anything wrong, their positions in society put them above criticism. But to understand the right of the media to criticise leaders, let me cite five main functions of any radio station.
Media's first responsibility is to inform their audiences or readership of whatever is happening in the country, good or bad. But in informing people of whatever they must observe fidelity to truth, however painful. But the pain of truth is like the pain of giving birth. It has sweet consequences.
The second function of media is to educate its readership or audience on the many things in the world whose existence they don't know and if they do, they don't understand.
The third function of a radio station is to criticise society and leadership when they get lost. To do this, many radio stations allow their radios to serve as platforms for self-criticism or criticism of leaders. When society rejects self-criticism or criticism, it is like a human being that will not bathe. It stinks.
The forth function of a radio or television station is to entertain its audience with music, films, plays or narration of stories. In entertaining however, every station must not undermine by violating its dos and don'ts in order to undermine its culture or morally pervert its youth by exposing them to things that corrupt their behaviour and character. Media should therefore not promote pornography.
The fifth function of the media is to engage in advertising business selling its airtime as a commercial enterprise. But this business must be conducted through obedience to laws like the Public Procurement and Disposal Act.
Nor should media use falsehood to promote profits. Since media are the ultimate critics, they should avoid corruption when they may not self-criticise.
In the days of one party dictatorship, people could not criticise leaders even if they walked naked in the market by denying them the right to use a government radio station like KBC whose only work was to praise the president, entertain him, spread his propaganda and broadcast news about him only. All news that the government media broadcast was to praise the president while denigrating and demonising political enemies.
Under Kenyatta, every KBC reporter who dared criticise the president would be taught a lesson while all people including KBC were all the time advised to chorus the president's song like a parrot or risk being detained without trial.
Courtesy of our new constitution and democracy, a private radio station has a right to criticise any leader who does wrong but as the musician Munish will say, it is the right of those who listen to a radio not to listen to that criticism if it grates their ears.
In offering criticism to society, a radio station must not discriminate. It must not have those it will criticise with alacrity and sacred cows whom it will never criticise.
When a radio criticises Kibaki, it should also criticise Raila, and when it criticises Uhuru, it must also criticise Kalonzo Musyoka. As the saying goes, media must not have some of the stomach and others of the back.
Here we need to understand that according to democracy, the job of criticising leaders, exposing their weakness and mistakes to avoid their recurrence, belongs to media as its way of protecting people from leaders who are inclined to oppression and other evils just because they have the power to oppress. Indeed, media should be regarded as enemies of society if they should shy to criticise leaders out of love or fear.
In its criticism of leaders or its education of people, there are certain things a radio may not do deliberately.
First, where it criticises all human deities, it may not criticise God.
Second, criticising a radio station will ensure it does so with responsibility, making sure it puts public interests and truth before everything else.
Equally, when a radio station criticises a leader, it must ensure it does not violate his rights. It must also give a right of reply to all those who think they have been criticised unfairly. Criticism of a radio must also go along with readiness to give credit where due.
It must also be understood that to criticise deeds, policies, utterances and works of a leader does not amount to attacking the person. Unfortunately many don't understand this.
A leader who is above criticism is a dictator and people who protect such leaders from criticism aid and abet dictatorship even when they are its victims.
Unfortunately, dictatorship has a tendency to keep people as slaves who don't know of their rights and spend all their time defending dictators who the primary source of their problems.
Worse, when tyranny is constructed, common people forget about their interests. They only think of the interests of their leader. And for fear of dictatorship, poor people never dare utter a word about their problems. When the leader catches a cold, they sneeze.
During elections, poor people have no agenda. To them, the agenda of leaders is the agenda of elections. In fact it saddens that when people talk during elections, they hardly mention problems they want solved after elections.
Ultimately the freedom of expression is the freedom to criticize leaders and government. When people surrender this freedom, they deny themselves democracy and commit suicide. But a society without a voice is a slave society that must be liberated. This is the plight of Kenya today.