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VICTOR BWIRE: Media influences voting, election processes

Candidates depend on the much-needed clout to bolster their chances of winning.

In Summary

•One of the key indicators of a strong democracy is the ability of its media to be objective, giving equal and fair coverage to all candidates vying for public office.

•Democracy also entitles every person to their freedom of expression giving them confidence that they will be heard and given the chance to express their point of view without victimization.

Journalists at work.
Journalists at work.
Image: FILE

During elections, the media influences the popularity of candidates.

Candidates depend on the much-needed clout to bolster their chances of winning.

No wonder, it has become fashionable for a section of aspirants to fault the media over the status of their popularity.

The media plays a dynamic role in the coverage of elections in any country.

One of the key indicators of a strong democracy is the ability of its media to be objective, giving equal and fair coverage to all candidates vying for public office.

Democracy also entitles every person to their freedom of expression giving them confidence that they will be heard and given the chance to express their point of view without victimization.

Many serious politicians either own or are associated with a particular media outlet.

Others have hired experienced professional journalists in their teams and by extension paid bloggers and influencers to push their ideologies.

The attention, investment and resources put in place to prepare coverage of the 2022 General Elections tells it all that the media is a key player in the electoral processes. 

At one time, the Azimio la Umoja candidate Raila Odinga is quoted saying media attention matters, notwithstanding the type of coverage- bad or good, negative or positive tonality.

Several of the complaints about media coverage of the elections by the various political sides have been on the time and space allocated to their candidates and the tonality.

My late mentor and teacher Mzee Joe Kadhi wrote a paper that captures the influence the media has on voting and general perception about candidates.

Quoting various scholars and studies, the late Joe notes that many contestants not only own and associate with media but also try to influence journalists to produce favourable content.

More importantly, they also stage campaign events that will attract the attention of the media and lead to press coverage.

Many voters in Kenya regard a candidate as having a very good chance when opinion polls rate him/her highly, and when many respected media houses and journalists appear to be in their favour.

That explains the concerns raised many times regarding time allocation to some candidates.

The use of advertisements that are directly infused in editorial content and doing roadshows jointly with candidates is a new phenomenon that media in Kenya must contend with.

Advertisements have been used to reduce editorial content, especially through the broadcast media, sometimes flouting existing laws on advertisements.

Aware of the influence of media content on voting and candidate ratings, media houses and partners have established fact-checking desks to help minimise emerging threats.

Community and local language-based media houses have in the meantime continued to attract attention during these campaigns.

Their influence at the local level is very big.

Many of the candidates have been appearing in local language-based media houses as partners also stage high-impact debates.

A candidate getting more time or space does not necessarily mean that the media favours them. It might be because of preparation, availability, events planning, content, and source/media relations.

Many times, media relations and advisors sow discord with the media because of personal reasons and misadvise their candidates from engaging with the media.

Journalists will use their professional discretion to cover or assign time and space to candidates who give news without necessarily caring how they treated the same person yesterday.

Some of the candidates have no communication team or pick activists with no media relation or news generation cycle, and just cannot keep up with the media, but many times will blame the media.

Many of the candidates are associated with or own media houses which cannot cover them favourably.

But they continue complaining about other media houses and how their content is skewed.

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