Opinion is varied over the role of the media in the electioneering process in Kenya and possible influencing role in the August general. A number of lessons, especially after the political party primaries and subsequent events that have led to many opinions over the performance of the Fourth Estate so far, outside the manner they have carried advertisements that seem to overshadow editorial content. There is a lot of pressure on journalists to do even what is humanly impossible.
The ensuing debate even among some media personalities is that a strictly punitive stand be taken against media people and houses seen to be perpetuating divisive national agenda.
Indeed, the Communications Authority of Kenya, the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission have issued regulations on hate speech via media, political messaging and regulations for broadcast media on various matters.
Outside the official regulatory framework, a number of individuals especially political party followers have individually attacked media houses and journalists whenever they feel certain stories are unpalatable.
A large number of media practitioners and journalists on the other hand have held the view that we should look at the underlying reasons some of them behaved badly, including level of training and ethics, media ownership and external influences.
Media is operating in an environment that has serious challenges and each case must be dealt with on on its own. We should stop this wholesome condemnation of the media.
The overriding concern is that the media plays a positive role in not only the country’s development agenda but also in political debate and events like the general election.
Indeed freedom, quality of journalism, plurality and diversity of media and access to information are major tenets of public media that should be guaranteed if elections are going to be free and fair.
Improving media performance will not necessarily be achieved through controlling, disciplining, or any punitive action against the journalists. A combination of interventions by all stakeholders including the Government, media owners, editors, media managers, journalists, MCK, development partners, advertisers and Kenyans at large.
While the media is a business and should make returns, there are fundamental issues that guide the enterprise. Investors and media managers must allow journalists to be guided by their social responsibility praxis and public interest axiom that forms the philosophy of public media and the cornerstones of journalism. In order for people to exercise their full rights as citizens, they must have access to information; thus, media in Kenya should dedicate sufficient time and space to educate Kenyans on election process.
To create responsible citizenry, media must access the broadest possible range of information, interpretation and debate on areas that involve public political choices and must also be given space and airtime to register criticism and propose alternative leadership and priority issues.
Thus the diversity of hard content as opposed to entertainment, elite-oriented and city-centred content should be true benchmarks of a public interest media.
While media is free and there are many outlets in Kenya, this has not translated into more informed citizenry.
Media houses use reports that are prepared and provided free of charge by public relations firms or political parties in newscasts. They rely on elites as regular news sources and focus news on pre-planned official events.
Media in Kenya is now concentrated in the hands of a few players who can promote specific political agenda and use their huge profits and media outlets for political endeavours.
Safety and protection are a key concern for journalists, as many have become targets for attacks and harassment by political activists and goons.