Media Conduct in the 2017 general elections was dangerously flawed and could have greatly contributed to the subversion of democracy at the highly contested polls.
In a string of malpractice coupled by the inability and/or unwillingness to pursue accountability of those manning Kenya’s Elections process, those safeguarding peace & security and ultimately the political players in the last six months, the media reneged on its responsibility be the watchdog of democracy.
In a Media monitoring report; “Media Besieged – A Media Monitoring Report on the coverage of the Kenya Elections 2017”, Peace Pen Communications, a media-based organization in Kenya delivers a concerning verdict on media conduct and urges the unwavering adherence to professional conduct especially in politically sensitive periods.
“In a period of 6 months, we watched and monitored media conduct as the elections dynamics unfolded and with every significant change to the process media conduct took a nose-dive with a myriad of biased reporting, inflammatory coverage and heightened sensationalism that largely dented professional conduct” said Mildred Ngesa, the Executive Director of PPC.
There was broad recognition that the media did well in reporting the electioneering process and generally helped the citizens follow up on the issues however, accountability of responsible institutions, sustainable, pro-active coverage for dissenting voices and balanced reportage was largely lacking, thus presenting a rather skewed and political populated picture
Gatekeepers on the spot
The report critics the decision of media gate-keepers on coverage spots and focus, the external influence of other players like the Government Advertising Agency on to professional conduct and the obvious polarization of party-affiliated politics within media houses.
“Media owners influenced agenda of their media houses. Majority were think-tanks for either Jubilee party or National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition. They offered their media assets to political parties as mouth pieces for party campaigns. They fiddled and meddled with editorial policies, which left journalists vulnerable and insecure. Journalists played along to save their jobs in the process breaching code of ethics and media laws” The report indicates.
The relationship between Media and the government of Kenya through the Government Advertising Agency, GAA is also a factor that contributed greatly to flawing media independence as highlighted in the report.
“ The editorial content in MyGov cannot be edited by media houses to meet the set standards due to contractual obligation of no alteration of what the government has presented whether they are factual or not. “ argues Erick Oduor, the Secretary General of Kenya Union of Journalists, KUJ who was also party to the content development of the report. “This thoroughly affects the editorial independence of media houses to carry news articles that meet professional standards and code of conduct for the practice of journalism in Kenya”.
Stories that the media missed
The Kenya Correspondents Association Chairman William Oloo Janak, in partnering in the PPC Media Monitoring process opined that the media failed to serve the broader national good, identifying and prioritizing key national issues and presenting, analyzing and projecting them in a manner that help in the country’s democratic transformation and in conflict resolution.
“Journalists on the ground filed credible information about the cases of brutality, killings and even rapes – including of children, but the media was seemingly feeble about accountability by the police and shied from publishing the figures, later choosing to go by the data from the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights”. Said Oloo Janak.
The media, it seemed was so swayed by political intrigues that it either ignored or negligibly covered other issues of interest for example violence against women that was allegedly rife but unfortunately trivialised within media coverage.
Jane Godia, a senior Program Officer at the African Women & Child features Service AWCFS says it was a shame that local media only picked up issues of violence and in particular violence against women after international media outlets highlighted this violation.
“Violence Against women and girls never made it to media headlines within local media and when it was covered, it was reported negligibly and covered sporadically” said Godia. “Women and children remained most affected and pictures of police invading homes and violating women including those who were pregnant were more visible in social media than mainstream media”. She added.
The media monitoring report indicates that despite the fact that media houses such as Nation Media Group, Standard Media Group, Royal Media and Mediamax indicated they had committed significant resources to monitoring the elections and tallying the results as part of enhancing accountability and transparency but no tallies were ever declared and instead, they waited to project the contradictory and contested figures from the IEBC’s National Tallying Centre at the Bomas of Kenya.
Professionalism must be enhanced
The media monitoring report conducted by Peace Pen Communications comprised media researchers who are practising journalists and a collection of media gate-keepers and stakeholders working towards media professionalism.
Henry Maina, the Executive Director of global Media Watchdog Article 19, says in his Preface to the report says that for the media and media professionals to discharge their functions effectively especially during highly contested elections beyond sensational and salacious reports, there is need to invest in developing and implementing clear policies around working with professionals from different disciplines.
“ Such professionals would help clarify issues and offer in depth perspectives unlike when they rely on binary narrow perspectives as framed by the supporters and sympathisers of the two main political persuasions in the country. Such processes would ensure diversity and pluralism among the panelists engaged on live radio and TV programmes.” Says Maina.
Media owners should publicly state their party affiliations to enable their staff align their objectives to the political affiliations and the publics to understand their editorial policies.
The report also recommends among others:-
- Media owners should publicly state their party affiliations to enable their staff align their objectives to the political affiliations and the publics to understand their editorial policies.
- Regulators should sponsor legislation in the Kenya National Assembly against Cross media ownership.
- MCK should establish alternative revenue streams away from stranglehold of Government resources for its independence.
- MCK/CA should establish a self-regulating toolkit within the framework of the law that allows Citizen Journalists to decide their own ethical guidelines.
- ICT Ministry should get out of the media advertising business.
- Review of Media Act 2013 to bring regulatory regime under the Media Council of Kenya
- Media Houses must avoid employing and embedding political journalists of an ethnic group in a political party allied to the same community. This breeds tribal activists instead of professional Journalists.
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