The conceit of good journalism (Limitations on Press Freedom in Kenya)
The conceit of good journalism
PERCY ZVOMUYA - Dec 01 2008
Several days after the announcement of the 2008 Rory Peck Award for News, you can feel that Clifford Derrick is rankled by the fact that he didn't win. "I really feel my story should have won the category," he says. His entry consisted of raw footage of the post-election violence in Kibera, a slum near Nairobi.
"Surely the news category should be about a news event that takes place on a particular day. I worked the whole day from the time the violence broke to the time the police started killing people," he says. Nevertheless, he is flattered by the nomination. "It means a lot to me," he says.
The category was won by Abdullahi Farah Duguf's Two Weeks in Mogadishu, a story about destruction and human misery in Mogadishu, Somalia. The gong is awarded to freelance camera people involved in TV news, current affairs and documentaries from around the world. The category for features was won by Tim Hetherington for his coverage of British forces in Afghanistan. The award was established in memory of Anglo-Irish freelance cameraman, Rory Peck, killed while covering the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993.
Derrick was thrust into the centre of the Kenyan election story quite by chance. While taking a break from his post-graduate studies at Wits University he went back to his native Kenya last December to visit his family. He found his country on the edge. Kenya's president, Mwai Kibaki, was in a mortal battle with opponent Raila Odinga to win the vote of the Kenyan people.
As a citizen Derrick had reservations about the direction in which his country was heading and as a journalist he was appalled by the way the Kenyan media was covering the unfolding mess. "The release of most of the news felt managed. I found that certain stories were not coming out." He says the story was "one-sided" and Odinga was being portrayed as "pro-violent". He found that "they weren't addressing the main issues at all".
It was set to get worse. When the violence spiralled out of control following the swearing in of Kibaki, Derrick says local networks didn't carry the story. "Instead they just broadcast a lot of entertainment news. Local networks had been told not to broadcast what was really taking place."
Taking his camera equipment, Derrick left his house, going straight into the slums, the epicentre of the violence. He captured on camera police shooting people, beating up women and throwing tear gas canisters at protesters. He tried to sell his video footage to KTN, a company owned by former president Daniel arap Moi. "They refused to screen it. It was then that I talked to Al Jazeera." He now has proof that the media in Kenya is not free. He says there is no way you can rise to the editorship of a newspaper or be the head of a bureau for the foreign news networks if the government views you with suspicion.
He decided to set up base in the slums to record the story. It was a distinctly dangerous choice. "On three occasions cops threatened me. One came up and said to me: "I wonder whether you will be alive at the end of the day.'"
His life at risk, Derrick had to think fast, making what he describes as "an alliance with the cops". He says: "I went up to the cops and told them that if anything happens to me I have footage of you. If I die you will be held responsible. That's why I got the best footage." It was a prescient move: "It was then that I captured the worst images. I had images of brains being blown out. It was traumatic," he says. "I could hear instructions on the walkie-talkies telling the cops to shoot to kill."
When he showed the footage to Andrew Simmons, Al Jazeera's Africa Bureau chief, Simmons was shocked by its close-up quality and its rawness. "He told me: 'The reaction is so huge. Everyone is buying our footage, even KTN.' I don't want to blow my own trumpet, but I made a significant contribution to the story."
Derrick then reels off the seven awards he has won, including the CNN African journalist of the year in 2004. A person this accomplished is bound to upset those in power. In 2005 Kenya's first lady, Lucy Kibaki, slapped him. The first lady visited the offices of The Nation newspaper to complain because she didn't find the coverage of the first family flattering enough. Derrick says she confiscated reporters' notebooks, cellphones and cameras.
Unknown to Kibaki, all this presidential thuggery was being recorded on camera. When she eventually saw him she went up to him and slapped him. His attempts to get redress came to nothing. Perhaps this explains why he struck me as a tad paranoid. He says he doesn't move around on his own and keeps his most valuable personal belongings at friends.
Despite Derrick's impulse to slip occasionally into self-adulation, you can't take away the fact that he is an accomplished journalist -- a kind that an Africa still exorcising self-destructive urges cannot do without.
Source: Mail & Guardian Online
Web Address: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2008-12-...ood-journalism