First, some home truth idioms. “It’s very difficult to lose a bad reputation, even if it’s unjustified” and “Give a dog a bad name and hang him”. With that understanding, let’s listen to a complaint by Caxton Muune.
The commuter transport systems engineer accuses NMG of open bias against the matatu industry. He says recent news coverage of the industry amounts to a “ruthless and punitive offensive against matatu operators and their millions of passengers”.
Prof Muune accuses the Daily Nation of publishing strongly worded editorials in a sustained “character assassination of matatu investors”.
He contends that, beginning with the front page headline, Crash driver was 72 years (DN, Oct 18), NMG has scandalised and slandered matatu investors using language usually employed to demonise lords of organised crime.
Accusing NMG of “outright incitement” and “disaffectionate hate speech” against the industry, he complains of the “wholesome condemnation” of the matatu fraternity” and denunciation of the “industrious” matatu people as “criminal gangsters”.
He accuses NMG of profiling matatu investors and heaping all the blame for road crashes and congestion on the industry, the net effect being the “heavy-booted clampdown” on matatus.
Prof Muune complains that there is not much of road safety content in the media “that could be useful in helping the public to understand the key problem areas regarding road safety and matatu business operations “beyond the social mob-lynching mentality”. This has exposed “a glaring deficiency in organisational capacity building for news coverage of the sprawling informal sector business and its investors”.
I have mulled over his lengthy complaint — a whole 1,038 words — and the stories Prof Muune pinpoints to prove his case.
I find the stories do not support his wide-sweeping claims. However, some stories I found on my own could have used less extreme language.
For example, the article by Macharia Gaitho, Driving criminal elements out of public transport the answer (DN, Nov 20), describes matatus as “the mafia” and “the organised criminal enterprise that passes for the country’s commuter transport system”.
Surely, not all matatu operators or owners are mafioso or members of an organised criminal enterprise.
The article continues: “It follows that solutions will only be found when the criminal elements are driven out of town, and the way opened for legitimate investors to enter the public transport sector.” Surely, can any investor in a legal business be illegitimate?
“You do not force the Mafia to reform or to comply with the laws; you cut off its head! It’s as simple as that,” Mr Gaitho states. No wonder, Prof Muune complains of “outright incitement” and “disaffectionate hate speech” by NMG.
Other Daily Nation articles that could have avoided sweeping generalisations include John Kamau’s End of the road for matatu gangs in new crack down (Oct 18), and Mutuma Mathiu’s Removal of thugs from roads best news yet from these shores (Oct 19).
Mr Gaitho, in particular, could say all that he says and get away with it since the matatu industry is like a dog that has been given a bad name and it has stuck.
You can hang the dog or run it out of town. The matatu industry is virtually incapable of having its damaged reputation further damaged: It’s libel-proof.