A crisis, whatever its magnitude, is a goldmine for journalists. We tend to feed on the misfortunes of others and sometimes the feeding frenzy goes into overdrive.
The worst thing that can happen to a scribe is when the editor is breathing down his neck and he or she has no story to file.
This is when the weaker species of our kind reveal hidden talents - meteorological aces that are capable of creating storms in tea cups.
Several stories that were run in the Ugandan daily, The Daily Monitor, captured my attention because the subject was Rwanda and I had more or less first hand information on the topics discussed.
The stories had one thing in common though; they were all written by a local Rwandan journalist who strings for The Daily Monitor, and all had a tint of unbridled sensationalism.
Two of the stories had Rwandan President Paul Kagame as their main theme and definitely he is newsworthy for the Ugandan media, but embellishments sometimes do have a limit.
The writer tries to draw the Rwandan President in the Kenyan fray at every turn. One story ran with the title “Kenya: Kagame calls for a re-run”. This was not only misleading, but it misrepresented the facts.
The President had been asked to clarify some recent comments he made on the Kenyan crisis where he allegedly called for intervention by the country’s military to end the violence there. Some sections of the media even went as far as suggesting he called for a coup d’état!
I am not speaking for the President, but I highly doubt a statesman, however ill advised, could make such a sweeping statement regarding a neighbouring state. But then, I was at the same press conference.
To my recollection, nowhere did Kagame call for a rerun; in fact he wondered whether, under the current situation, it had guarantees to succeed.
What he dwelt on at length was for the Kenyans themselves to chart out their cause in a consensual manner.
A previous article by the same author had reported that Kagame had blasted African leaders who cling onto power and fail to see the writing on the wall when their time is up. This was during the Heroes Day celebrations in Muhanga in the Southern Province.
“Actually, Mr Kagame ran short of mentioning Kenya”, wrote our friend. So if he did not mention Kenya, where does the author get the divine powers to deduce that Kenya was the subject?
Either it was an oversight by his editors, or Kagame’s name has magical effects that raise the circulation levels of the newspaper. This is where the magical weatherman excels in conjuring up storms.
A few years ago when the Congo wars were raging, a hoard from foreign media houses were camped in Kigali
Whenever there was a lull in the fighting, my peers would be crestfallen because there was no gore and mayhem to report from the primitive Congo jungles.
Some would even make up stories which their editors back home had no means of verifying. Whether the stories are cooked up or have gone under the knife of a cosmetic surgeon, the truth depends purely on the journalist’s ethics meter.
Editors usually find themselves on the receiving end when their wards get carried away and over-do the spicing department. But what are they to do? They have to have faith in their reporters.
The situation in Kenya does not warrant this kind of sensational coverage akin to pouring oil on the fire.
We are becoming bogged down in the appalling habit of applauding from the stands of a bull ring. What if the killings in Eldoret and Naivasha were to come to your doorstep?
Rwanda has been there and beyond. It has learnt the lesson that when your neighbour’s hut is on fire, you do not rush there with firewood, but with a pail of water.