VICTOR BWIRE: Media has remained professional on election coverage

The media must be able to form independent and diverse views.

In Summary

•The safety of journalists, profiling and branding along tribal and ownership lines, disjointed peer review and solidarity approach among others have been a thorn in the flesh.

•They should work within the various laws, administrative codes and regulations as provided by Constitution.

Media preparedness and coverage of the 2022 General Election have so far remained professional, focused and issue-oriented.

This is a clear departure from the normal perceptions about balance and fair play.

A lot of serious work has gone into these preparations.

They include heavy investment in financial and human resources to enable responsible and professional reporting of the polls.

Obviously, it has not been without challenges.

The safety of journalists, profiling and branding along tribal and ownership lines, disjointed peer review and solidarity approach among others have been a thorn in the flesh.

Issue of nonpayment of staff, duplication of efforts and the search for resources to enable the deployment of over 46,000 reporters to cover all the tallying centres are also part of the challenges facing the media.

With such kind of preparation and investment, it’s now incumbent upon the individual journalist and above all media owners to remain professional.

They should work within the various laws, administrative codes and regulations as provided by Constitution.

They should also be cognizant of various Acts, heed regulators' directives and more importantly abide by editorial and operational guidelines provided by media houses.

The media regulator, the Media Council of Kenya and professional media support groups have signed memoranda of association with the electoral management board relating to access to information and working relations.

This includes the establishment of a steering committee.

The media houses, on the other hand, have established election reporting desks, acquired equipment and hired more staff than ever before, to ensure they have a presence in all 290 constituencies for live coverage of the election.  

The editorial staff have been thoroughly trained on elections reporting, aware that over 70 per cent of the field staff will be reporting elections for the first time and exposed to best practices from around the globe.

Technical staff from the media has been trained and arrangements made on how the transmission of election results will be done using the infrastructure provided by the IEBC.

Key things for the journalists are now ensuring they are accredited by both IEBC and MCK to be allowed to access voting and results transmission areas.

They should also assess the working conditions of equipment, their physical health and ensure they have critical contacts including those of security, editors, IEBC and colleagues.

This will guarantee them safety around movement, accommodation and food among others. 

While preparing for fieldwork, journalists should dress up properly, carry extra batteries/tapes, chargers, painkillers, water and always work with colleagues while remembering to avoid trouble spots.

Media houses must enhance the security around their premises and offices and have contingency measures for staff.

It's important that journalists observe the law so that they minimize conflicts with law enforcement agencies.

Several laws and regulations have been released by various regulatory bodies which should be followed.

Such regulations include the release of election results, guidelines on the use of broadcast platforms, the radio and TVs and social media use.

Journalists must also remember laws on balloting prohibitions, false publication of withdrawal of candidate (Elections Act), interfering with a voter in the casting of his vote in secret or revealing a voter’s marking of a ballot at an election (photographers/camerapersons note).

Others are communicating with voters after receipt of ballot paper; publication of an Opinion Poll at least 5 days prior to the Election, defamation, claims for influencing election results, and misreporting of results.

Corruption and influence and public relations content within the media during the election campaign period is an issue that has faced Kenyan journalists during the elections period.

Media fixers with deep pockets exert influence on the editorial teams.

Extortionists disguising as journalists with dead recorders and muted microphones make the work of the media very difficult.

In addition, the issue of misinformation and propaganda and the role it has so far played in elections and propaganda remains a big challenge to media.

What would have been genuine alternative media has become a tool for discrediting media and allowed online harassment of journalists.

Balance and fair play doctrines remain a thorny issue even as political players make it difficult for media to achieve through being evasive, economic with information and in extreme cases and hostile to journalists.

For citizens to make well-informed decisions in an election, there must be free media. But the media must be more than free, it must be reliable, professional, credible and must be trusted.

The media must be able to form independent and diverse views while at the same time avoiding comments that may generate violent conflict.

This can be achieved if the media is run in a professional manner and is not compromised by the state or other corporate interests.

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