MEDIA

Poor political reporting creates apathy

Political reporting must be about illuminating, enlightening and awakening vibrant civil discourse, not low-brow 'he said, she said'

In Summary

• Our media, especially the so-called mainstream traditional media, follow politicians everywhere they go:  weddings, funerals, graduations, churches and mosques.

• Reporting politics must go beyond mindless, uncritical reporting of anecdotes about individuals competing for power or feuding over some trivia.

journalists at work
journalists at work
Image: FILE

We are bombarded by politics. The dominant style of political reporting and commentary in print and digital media is combat, spectacle and high drama.

Moreover, conversations among ordinary Kenyans are consumed and animated by what politicians are talking about or doing.

Politics and politicians provide a large part of the diet of what we know as news. Our media, especially the so-called mainstream traditional media, follow politicians everywhere they go; weddings, funerals, graduations, churches and mosques.

The protagonists in politics are politicians,  public servants who implement their policies and the people, who are beneficiaries or victims of their decisions. More importantly, the Judiciary, whose role is adjudication, guaranteeing the rule of law. And it is the business of media organisations, ideally, to report the events and the players with dispassion.

My conversation with many people about newspapers and television or radio has a singular denominator: There is nothing to watch, read or listen to except politics. Journalists and editors insist that the overabundance of politics in news reporting is because it sells papers, draws viewers and brings in the revenue. Political news pays the bills.

But politics is more important than a source of revenue for media business and a source of vexation for a cynical public. Political scientist and communications theorist Harold Lasswell defined politics as “who gets what, when, where and how”, and I might add why. Politics is a critical vehicle for the distribution of public resources. In a democracy, politicians are delegates or deputies of the people, the owners of power and custodians of sovereign authority.

Politics is important and the conduct or behaviour of politicians must be the business of citizens, we the people, on whose behalf they act, or ought to act. In a democracy, such as ours, interest in politics and politicians is a constitutional burden of the office of citizens. Think about the state as a corporation and citizens as the board of directors, who decide who runs the corporation.

Given the primacy politics in a democracy, one would not expect the public to disengage from the process that determines what they get, why and when. I suggest that public apathy and disengagement is an indictment of the quality of political reporting.

Reporting politics must go beyond mindless, uncritical reporting of anecdotes about individuals competing for power or feuding over some trivia. Political reporting must have context, depth and relate to broader issues of public interest. Like other news, reporters and editors must give thought to selection, gathering and presentation of facts and opinions.

Political reporting must be about illuminating, enlightening and awakening vibrant civil discourse, which drives insightful engagement and full participation of citizens in the awesome constitutional duty of holding the people to whom authority is delegated, the politicians, accountable.

 

We must contend with the inexorable decline in viewership and readership if political reporting in print, electronic, or digital media is squandered by simplistic, low-brow and mind-deadening 'he said, she said' reportage. Journalists and editors can and must do better.