Lessons from Kenyan polls
Posted Monday, March 11 2013 at 02:00
During the 2007 general elections, the Kenyan media—especially broadcast outlets—aired most events/press conferences live.
In his acceptance speech, Kenyan President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta praised the Kenyan media for responsible reporting during the election period. “You have shown remarkable responsibility as this country’s fourth estate.
You have shown sensitivity in the dissemination of news and impartiality in your treatment of the results. You have no doubt helped to keep the country calm,” said the president-elect!
I think Mr Kenyatta made a crucial point. The media is a powerful force in any society and the information we disseminate, especially in politically charged environments, can make or break a nation. The 1994 Rwanda genocide is a sobering reminder.
During the 2007 general elections, the Kenyan media—especially broadcast outlets—aired most events/press conferences live. Given the tension at that time, it was easy for irate supporters to act on reckless statements by their leaders.
A different trend was noticeable in the just-ended elections. Press conferences by political contenders were not broadcast live.
In many media houses, an election coverage post-mortem is usually a painful process. Of course the Kenyan media was not perfect. However, I would say the level of maturity and responsibility exhibited is a positive progress. In a volatile political environment, the media is sometimes forced to make hard choices and deeply reflect on matters of national interest.
That, though, is not easy in an era of social media where foreign journalists or anyone can relay news from press conferences in real time via Twitter, Facebook and various broadcast channels. What then will the local people who access this news from the social media make of their home media? It is a tricky balance, but the Kenyan media handled it fairly well!
Election times across the world have shown how politicians can exploit the media to achieve their personal goals. There are decent politicians whose messages are well-intended, but many politicians are also unpredictable and sometimes utter reckless statements.
Media houses should be able to carefully assess and separate facts from fiction, and adhere to the highest standards of accuracy, fairness, impartiality and balanced reporting. Achieving this is a continuous learning process.
Ms Vuchiri is the Public Affairs Editor and can be contacted at: P.O. Box 12141 Kampala. E-mail: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @MVuchiri and @DailyMonitor