Media and politics: The Kenyan press and election coverage
The Kenyan press and the election coverage
The Kenyan parliamentary nominations are underway with violence, chaos and rigging recoded in all the three main political parties. Reading all the three major Kenyan newspapers, the Nation, the Standard and the Kenya Times, it would seem that the Kenyan media deliberately attempts to portray one particular opposition party as the most violent and undemocratic in their handling of nomination compared to the other two political parties. Yet arguably, no single political party has successfully conducted their nominations without a hitch. Writes Clifford Derrick
Focus on the media
As we move closer to the election date on the December 27th, the focus is on the media to assess their neutrality and fairness in their portrayal of political parties and presidential candidates.
The media, more so the national media, ought to remain non-partisan in their reportage of the forthcoming general election if they are to maintain an image of democracy. This should be seen from their fair and balanced reportage of the election events as they unfold.
At the moment, Kenyan journalists and media managers are in great dilemma as to how best to express and reflect the current political scenario in the country. This has been so mainly because of the political economy of the Kenyan media. Media ownership is in the hands of a few who wield the power and who are determined to use the media to entrench political and economic hegemony. But even if this is the situation, journalists should still uphold their professionalism and refuse any attempts by ownership to interfere with their duties to objectively serve the public.
While it is a fact that the media as part of society and business have a right to be inclined towards a certain political party or candidate based on their business interest, it is however imperative for the media to remember that other than this, they also have a public service role to perform. So while it is the shareholders right to expect a certain amount of profit, this inclination must be objectively and morally justified if the image of a democratic Kenyan media is to be upheld.
Such an image may however not be sustained if the media continues to provide both Kenyans and indeed, in this age of information technology and the liberalisation of the media and the airwaves, the international community, with half-truths and biased reportage. Given such a scenario, it would not be surprising if audiences migrate to other news-outlets that they consider to be transparent and non-partisan.
When therefore, a section of the media deliberately focuses their reportage of electoral violence towards one particular party, full with ugly images, but fails to do the same for an equally violent political party. One then wonders as to the agenda of a media with such a selective amnesia.
Neutrality and balance in reportage requires journalists to report all the sides of an event in a balanced manner. By slanting reportage, while the media scores some political marks for their preferred political party or presidential candidate, this is however against the spirit of a free press that the Kenyan media and indeed the Kenyan people aspire.
Accountability and responsibility
Freedom of the press comes with accountability and responsibility. The twin concepts of accountability and responsibility are hinged on the notion that there are always two sides to a debate. So when the media publishes a story on a particular subject, it is a given that the publication will attract varied opinions. Taking cognisance of this fact, it is the duty of the media to account for these varied opinions by balancing their story to take care of the diverse views on the subject. As one of the custodians of democracy– even if the concept remains an idea, an illusion that is yet to be achieved- the press must be seen to be democratic in their reportage. This is the accountability and responsibility that is required of the media.