PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY

Referendum moment for media in Kenya

Media has the civic duty to help by delving deeper into the BBI report.

In Summary

• Media must be very cautious and firm in handling the national debate on the matters raised and this time create functional fact-checking desks to hold accountable some of the pundits and politicians.

• We expect editorial discretion and journalistic professional judgments on the discussions and contents of the constitutional review process.

Media has the professional responsibility and civic duty to help by delving deeper into the BBI report.
Media has the professional responsibility and civic duty to help by delving deeper into the BBI report.
Image: FILE

It seems the media will have a date with the Constitution Amendment through the Referendum, should the courts clear the several cases relating to the Building Bridges Initiative.

Hopefully, unlike politicians who many times are present in funerals and talk about numbers and imaginary things they support or oppose but miss out when needed in Parliament during voting on national issues, media will be counted in this constitutional moment, by standing with the truth and consistently focusing on the substance of the referendum and not sideshows that those keen on the process will engage in especially on misinformation and hate speech.

Let's watch out for the emotions that will accompany debates on such issues as gender, electoral boundaries, representation and governance issues that seem to attract extreme positions, aware that we have a country to care, after the voting.

Discussions give room for improved understanding and appreciation of things and issues, and related decision making, which is the hallmark of the democratization process, thus should be encouraged.

The stakes are high, especially given that there are likely to be a lot of transitions in the political realm in the country in 2022, starting with the President to Governors; which has raised the stakes in this constitutional review process.

A number of journalists currently on the beat might not have covered by the 2005 referendum, and this one promises fireworks.

It will require proper planning by newsrooms and at the individual level for those involved.

Already, the level of intimidation, lies and harassment within the political formations is present, and the desire to silence those with dissenting voices has been expressed across the political and civic space.

Should the legal hurdles be dealt with and the Constitutional review process is clear, in addition to focusing on the sideshows and misinformation peddlers, please prove the opportunity for Kenyans to interact with the constitutional proposes based on facts and the truth and not those planted stories by people who say different things but do the opposite.

Whether they are the majority or minority, give space to people who are firm, factual and say the truth, rather than only on those aggressive and available during the campaigns.

We expect editorial discretion and journalistic professional judgments on the discussions and contents of the constitutional review process including the referendum question devoid of personal and high octane polarized positions by the media, aware that they are those intent on using the process for 2021 political proceeds. 

A robust and fair discussion of the content, flaws and positives is healthy so that as the majority have their way, the minority have their say respected and heard.

While party discipline and loyalty are cardinal, listening to others and allowing dissenting voices without threats and intimidation should be the best practice and 2021 elections should not turn people into zombies.

The Kenya Media Sector Working Group has already prepared a guideline for media on reporting the Referendum and will conduct some sensitization for journalists, and it is expected that editorial decision making will allow for a robust coverage of the process including choice for a media house with reasons to reject or endorse the process while at the same time remaining professional in the coverage.

The media has the professional responsibility and civic duty to help by delving deeper into the report and picking out the substantive issues that will help Kenya address some of the sticky issues that have faced the country over the years.

The media must be very cautious and firm in handling the national debate on the matters raised and this time create functional fact-checking desks to hold accountable some of the pundits and politicians that will be participating in the debates.

Let media hold guys accountable and push them hard to provide facts about claims they make, about even obvious known historical facts.

The media must not be drawn into the circus. Remain fearless, professional and facts remain sacred in the debate.

Robust editorial planning including tapping into veteran journalists to provide professional support, enhancing the research and fact-checking desks within the newsroom or collaborations with professional fact-checkers, proper facilitation of journalists, the safety of the staff and where necessary joint productions will be necessary.

Allowing both sides to appear and participate in media debates, advertise freely and access media is expected.

Politicians and journalists must respect and accord space for all journalists and media practitioners, so long as accredited by the Media Council of Kenya, to practice and get news, outside this emerging trend of harassing journalists from local-based, vernacular or online media outlets. 

While you have the choice to only want to be covered by Nairobi based media outlets or by journalists veteran Charles Onyango-Obbo calls range rover driving chaps, even those on boda boda or on foot have a job to do and bills to pay.

Let's accommodate each other as we take note that quacks are on the run in the industry. Not all carrying recorders, notebooks or “dead” cameras work for media, many are shoppers, so be careful.

The fear that any of the retiring governors and some legislators to remain irrelevant past 2022 is real and to them, it's “life and death”, which is not necessarily for Kenyans.