Journalists should ensure fair coverage of poll campaigns

Attention is once more on the media, with the electioneering period setting in ahead of the 2017 General Election and whether they will manage the storm or crack the jury is out there. Many pundits are already pushing the idea that the media should concern themselves with free, credible and acceptable polls not necessarily a peaceful poll.

Among the issues that will face the media is issue of politicians extending ownership of media stations, journalists becoming embedded with political parties or tribal groupings, decline of the audience in the media, proliferation of vernacular and largely unprofessional radio or TV stations, fake news and threats to journalists by goons.

In addition to investing heavily in the media in terms of acquisitions, contracting senior journalists to their campaign teams, the political class is splashing serious monies through heavy advertisements.

Journalists should not surrender their professional calling to ownership and political party pressures, and professional groups including the Media Council of Kenya, Kenya Union of Journalists, Kenya Correspondents Association, Kenya Editors Guild and Association of Media Women in Kenya must come out and support journalists.

Verification desk

The indiscipline that is being witnessed in most vernacular radio and TV stations must be dealt with without fear or favour. Analysts invited to comment on stories or in talk shows must be vetted over their relevance to the topic under discussion. Media houses should set up poll coordination and news verification desks.

It’s not wrong for media houses to endorse candidates, but such should not mean they give such parties undue advantage over others or slant news in their favour. Professional obligations still stand. Media owners please give space to journalist to do their professional work.

It will be interesting to see if the media will this time focus more on the substance of the polls or the game of strategy in the elections.

Will media help Kenyans understand party manifestos, leadership qualities and past achievements of the competing political groupings, or will they as usual focus on the glamour, crowds and fake news by the groups?

Our political system, for over the years the main cause of tensions and poverty in Kenya is still intact.

The same people who have dominated Kenya’s political and by extension economic system are still in charge of the reform process of the country — and being interested and having been beneficiaries of the old skewed system that has seen them dominate.

Marginalised groups including the youth, persons with disability and women remain underrepresented at all levels across political parties, which has led to unfair practices and further marginalisation.

The writer works for the Media Council of Kenya.