We need journalists in Parliament, County Assembles but fairness must prevail

In Summary

• We currently have several journalists and media owners in the Senate, National and County Assemblies and this is very welcome. 

• We need more, because as the operating environment for the media at the global, national, and county level evolve.

Journalists covering a past event
Journalists covering a past event
Image: FILE

Journalists, media practitioners and media owners have the right to participate in political process, but unlike others, must not use the privileged position to disadvantage their competitors.

They should not use their position in the media to campaign for political seats, as this is not fair and is unprofessional.

This does not mean that journalists cannot identify with electoral issues that affect the citizens in Kenya by way of setting an agenda on the same, or those who can manage to join Parliament to push for things that affect Kenyans.

Soon we will see several journalists and media practitioners either declaring their political interests in various seats or fronting some political parties or politicians.

How do we deal with this and what does professional ethics and internal editorial policies say on such?

We currently have several journalists and media owners in the Senate, National and County Assemblies and this is very welcome.

We need more, because as the operating environment for the media at the global, national, and county level evolve, we need laws and policies that promote and protect press freedom and the rights of journalists in the country.

While none of the current journalists in the assembles has specifically brought up and media or journalists related matter, its good to have more joining the August House.

Obviously, the issue of whether once in the assembly they can continue practicing as journalists or again because of their commandeering position, they should not be also debatable.

My Friend Hon Mohammed Ali, the Nyali MP has engaged me on this severally- and looking at the fact that MPs who are lawyers, doctors, engineers or related continue their private practice even as they serve us in the assemblies.

There is a vernacular TV station where the owner is also the host of programmes, preacher during the religious programmes and host of their current political segment, and an aspirant for a political seat.

In one other radio station, the signature tune for the station is a praise song in support of the owners’ campaign message.

These breaking news, especially on live television broadcasts have become the new trend in broadcast news in Kenya.

The most worrying thing is that they are gradually cheapening news, as in most cases, the journalists have been reduced to mere pipelines, who rarely seem to ask or contextualize things.

These are the challenges that broadcaster and online media are facing, and now in an electioneering environment, it worries a lot.

Given that a number of the media outlets are owned by the political class, and when it has been established that, especially in radio stations, sometimes media owners, their relatives, associates and friends interfere with the management of the stations, affecting ethical and professional decision-making in the newsroom, concerns are being raised.

A number of times, journalists are selecting stories and breaking them on behalf of their stations based on their ownership, political beliefs and/or affiliations with little regard to professionalism.

With those concerns, regulators in the media industry recently reminded the media that given the influence that broadcasting holds on society; this demands the highest sense of responsibility by its practitioners, more-so during critical moments such as the electioneering period.

In addition to the requirement in the code of ethics for the practice of journalism in Kenya that journalists observe independent and professionalism in their work, the Kenya Information and Communications (Broadcasting) Regulations, 2009 and the Programming Code provide guidelines for the “polling period”, covering the period during national general elections, election campaigns, the post-election and referendum periods.

Section 25 of the Regulations and the Programme Code, which call on broadcasters to among other conditions; serve the public interest at all times and provide equitable coverage opportunities to registered political parties participating in an election and in particular to presidential candidates.

The requirement came about as a result of the fact that the direct involvement by politicians in the management of vernacular radio stations had been the source of concern in Kenya because in many cases political and proprietorial interests sometimes supersede professional and ethical requirements

With over 100 television stations and 200 FM stations currently on air, with as many owners interested in various political seats, you can see the risk Kenyans run, if we continue allowing the running of the media houses to politically inclined journalists.

In any case, managing a political campaign is such a demanding task, that any one serious, would not have enough time to, manage the campaign and also continue working full time.

Indeed, many human resource manuals and policies bar staff from directly engaging in political activity while still employed.