2022 COVERAGE

Media must remain accurate, impartial during the electioneering period

Political divisions have gradually taken serious space in our media.

In Summary

• The media should be able to demonstrate that the main parties or candidates vying for office are given equitable opportunities to be heard or questioned.

• The digital space has enabled such practices that regulators dealing with traditional media would not have envisaged or encountered challenges dealing with.

Kenya has been listed at 102 out of 180 countries ranked in the World Press Freedom Index 2021
Kenya has been listed at 102 out of 180 countries ranked in the World Press Freedom Index 2021
Image: FILE

Media regulation in the electioneering period as ever before is going to be demanding and challenging, given the changed news generation and dissemination environment. The onset of the digital space including features like instantaneous live broadcasting using Facebook, YouTube, Messenger, and related are challenging routine media regulation requirements in a way that some tenets in self-regulation are being put to test.

In addition to the regular media regulation approaches, players in the media sector will have to seriously think about investing in media and data literacy interventions that ensure responsible consumption of media content, the establishment of public editors alongside other in-house complaints handling mechanisms, and more importantly, respecting the decisions of the Complaints Commission at the Media Council of Kenya.

The traditional lines that separated journalists from media practitioners and personalities in terms of professionalism have been blurred and players in the industry will only be able to save their skin through religious adherence to the professional code of ethics and professional branding.

The digital space has enabled such practices that regulators dealing with traditional media would not have envisaged or encountered challenges dealing with. People are now content producers even in their individual capacities while institutions such as political parties are now able to stream their political activities and rallies on online platforms.

In addition, institutions such as Parliament that are required to ensure access to information and accountability through allowing media presence in the chambers can bypass that by giving media houses live feeds or asking journalists to get news through watching live coverage of proceedings, which denies journalists the opportunity to interact with the members or observe and pick unrelated news in the places. 

 Live coverage in our media especially on radio and TV, which seems to be gaining traction across our media houses, within the current political environment is problematic. With a largely partisan media, tribal inclined journalists and politically intoxicated political experts/lawyers, the scene has become more confusing than ever before. That is used to always fact check or verify information from the media is worrying, for truth is the hallmark of professional journalism.

We must be worried that media is no longer the source of credible, independent, and trustful information as it used to be. There is a sense of abandoning the cardinal.

The political divisions have gradually taken a serious space in our media house, and the results are there. From the choice of guests, moderation of discussions, choice of responses to allow on-air or tweets, media is stuck.

 It’s time the media revisited its public interest role and guarded against being used as vehicles for national shame, tools for individuals to vent out their frustrations, and related barbaric behavior from politicians. Media must be able to resist being drawn into wars that are not theirs- for journalists are not contestants but recorders of the events.  

Freedom of expression comes with responsibility and journalists and by extension, media houses must be strict on not only choosing who to invite for the live shows but more on the safety of their staff and preparations with their hosts before the airing of the programmes. It’s imperative that media houses set which times the guests arrive ahead of the programmes, and while the hosts familiarise themselves with the guests to gauge their suitability to participate.

 The aim of an interview or discussion programme is to have the interviewee/guest provide facts, reasons, or opinions on a particular topic, which is expected to help the listener to form a conclusion as to the validity of what he/ she is saying. The progamme host has a responsibility to obtain sufficient briefing and background information on the subject, the guest including meeting before the programme time to break the ice and assess the condition of the guest.

In addition, to be drunk and poorly prepared for the live shows, some guests even come armed to the studio. Some cases have been reported where guests physically fought in the studio during the programme.

When an interview degenerates into shouting, we lose big time especially when the programme could have enabled citizens to make decisions on the leaders they wanted. The role of the media in an election is to ensure that the citizen is empowered to make an informed choice.

The media, therefore, have a duty to provide coverage that gives the citizen sufficient, accurate, and reliable information on electoral matters. The media have a duty to debunk myths, stereotypes and counter fake news.

The media must maintain accurate, fair, balanced, and impartial to all candidates participating in the election. The media should be able to demonstrate that the main parties or candidates vying for office are given equitable opportunities to be heard or questioned, and, that minor parties or candidates are not treated unfairly.

Fair and balanced coverage also means that individual stories, and their pattern over a period of time, reflect the views of different parties or candidates.

There is general agreement among practitioners that the media should be prepared, engaged, proactive, and should not be afraid to ask tough questions on matters pertaining to the operational conduct of an election. By allowing guests to control the discussions and raise public emotions through speech that would lead to incitement to discrimination, increasing hostility, or violence based on ethnic hatred, the media violated journalistic principles.

Politicians and supporters of various political entities are taking over TV stations to air their hatred towards each something which is not healthy during this period.