OPINION

VICTOR BWIRE: High-stake polls call for conflict-sensitive reporting

Kenya Kwanza and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance are the two dominant factions at the August polls.

In Summary

• Accurate, objective and reliable media reporting by journalists especially relating to conflicts during such electioneering period is very important.

• Media lessens tension by bringing out facts, correcting perceptions and presenting realities which would otherwise be ignored by conflicting parties.

Accurate, objective and reliable media reporting in a high-stakes election especially relating to conflicts during such electioneering period is very important.
Accurate, objective and reliable media reporting in a high-stakes election especially relating to conflicts during such electioneering period is very important.
Image: The Star

Political competition especially through elections is an emotive and most divisive process in Kenya. Sometimes the competition result in deaths, violent confrontations, displacements and destruction of property.

Periodic elections are held in Kenya after every five years, and given the highly competitive nature the process is, the numerous election petitions and resultant by elections, the country is always in an election mood.

Given the high stakes in the 2022 General Election as a transition process, in addition to the fact that Kenya was facing other national challenges including rising costs of living, rising public debt, insecurity in some parts of the country heightened political activities, professional media is a key player in the country’s peace building and national reconciliation efforts pre, during and post-election period.

Kenyan media has for the last one decade played a crucial role in advancing democratic governance, reforms, and accountability in the country. It has continued to take a central position in the on-going political, legal and constitutional reforms in the country.

It is now evident therefore that strong, independent and professional media can make a positive contribution in the much-needed national cohesion and peace building in the country through presentations of diverse opinions, ideas and discussions on issues of public interests that inform the people in their choice of leaders both at central government and county levels.

Accurate, objective and reliable media reporting by journalists especially relating to conflicts during such electioneering period is very important.

Media lessens tension by bringing out facts, correcting perceptions and presenting realities which would otherwise be ignored by conflicting parties.

The Media can explore and provide information about opportunities for resolution and assist the parties into dialogue through accurate reporting of issues. This can only happen if journalists have a good understanding of conflict situation.

Journalists have a potential to contribute to conflict escalation, interfere with peace process, derail negotiations, misinform the public through inaccurate, insensitive and sensational reporting.

Article 33 of the Constitution provides for freedom of express but adds a rider that the right to freedom of expression does not extend to-propaganda for war; 
incitement to violence, hate speech; or advocacy of hatred that constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm; or is based on any ground of discrimination specified or contemplated in Article 27.

The Code of Ethics for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya has specific provisions that require journalists to guard against stories that could incite people to violence. This includes Article 23 which provides that the media shall avoid presenting acts of violence, armed robberies, and banditry and terrorist activities in a manner that glorifies such anti-social conduct.

Article 12 Covering ethnic, religious and sectarian conflict that requires that News, views or comments on ethnic, religious or sectarian dispute shall be published or broadcast after proper verification of facts and presented with due caution and restraint in a manner which is conducive to the creation of an atmosphere congenial to national harmony, amity and peace.

Article 25 on hate speech provides that quoting persons making derogatory remarks based on ethnicity, race, creed, colour and sex shall not be allowed.

Section 66(1) of the penal code on alarming publications provides that any person who publishes any false statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace is guilty of a misdemeanour.

The Official Secrets Act provides that any person who obtains, collects, records, publishes or communicates in whatever manner to any other person any code word, plan, article, document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to a foreign power or disaffected person commits an offense.

Section 9 (a) of Prevention of Terrorism Act no 12 of 2012 provides that anyone who ‘advocates, glorifies, advises, incites or facilitates’ the commission of a terrorist act or any act is preparatory to a terrorist act.

A study conducted by the Media Council established a number of things including that journalists are sometimes unable to do objective and reliable reporting where their ethnic communities are involved.

Journalists sometimes attribute the triggers of conflict as the main causes. “Helicopter Journalists” often do not understand conflict they cover because they do not have background information on such conflicts. They concentrate on bad news of conflict and are silent on peace process.

Additionally, the study established that journalists are often sensational and emotional in their tone or reporting, they tend to focus on powerful, conspicuous actors like politicians, warlords and other opinion leaders, use limited viewpoints and often repeat old grievances by the old elites when reporting on conflict, mostly just follow events.

Media promotes peace by affecting knowledge, attitudes and behavior of a critical mass of people. Similarly, the media promotes peace by providing an information conduit between dissenting groups and voices, thus reducing prejudice and stereotypes between them.

In targeting the political elite, media interventions promote peace by placing pressure to move toward a resolution.

The media play a serious role in helping communities understand historical injustices and how to address them, what provisions exist legally to help address the conflicts, enhance understanding of participation in elections, peaceful co-existence and enhance understanding of both existing laws and code of conduct for the practice of journalism.

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