Responsible and professional journalism key to peaceful elections

Guest look at the billboard on Elections Reporting Guidelines after it was launched in Nairobi recently. Picture Henry Owino
Guest look at the billboard on Elections Reporting Guidelines after it was launched in Nairobi recently. Picture Henry Owino

Kenyans will highly depend on journalists’ reporting and media coverage in the forthcoming General Election due to the trust it commands.

As the most trusted institution, therefore, it calls for responsible and accurate reporting among journalists.

Francis Ole Kaparo, chairman National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) said journalists are first Kenyans before their profession, so they must write patriotically. He cautioned that media is the most influential element and trusted by many audiences hence whatever it says can destroy or heal a nation.

He stated many other professions have found their way in politics watering down initial careers.

“Journalists must distinguish themselves from politicians by being independent as influential professionals and choose what to write, report or show the audience,” Kaparo challenged journalists.

He stressed: “Journalists are part of the society and they need to shape it by pointing out the rot without leaning on either side regardless of one’s background, social status or position in political sphere.”

He said: “For the first time in my adulthood, I have never seen a polarized voter listing in the country the way it recently happened.”

Posed Kaparo: “Are politicians preparing the country for divisions along tribal lines or inciting communities to rise against each other?”

He reiterated: “It is time for journalists to rethink how they write, what they say on air and how their stories might end up ones read or watched and heard. The pen used by journalist is so powerful that if misused can burn the country but if used well is able to redeem it.”

However, with harsh economic times, many media houses are laying off professional journalists who are experienced in covering elections.

“They are being replaced by young journalists, fresh from college. The trend is likely to affect the way media will report and cover elections in parts of the country,” said Charles Kerich, chairperson of the Media Complaints Commission.

The fear is that these newly hired young journalists are inexperienced and might be compromised depending on their tribal and political party affiliation apart. On many occasions such reporting is deemed to be biased.

These remarks were made during a launch of Election Reporting Guidelines for Journalists by Media Council of Kenya (MCK) with support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

According to Francis Wangusi, Director Communication Authority of Kenya (CAK), what is being asked of media to tame hate speech is that they should have  a seven second delay  of television live broadcast to enable journalists behind the microphone determine what goes on air.

Linus Kaikai, chair Kenya Editors Guild challenged journalists to stop aligning themselves with politicians and political parties. “Journalists should detach themselves from political utterances while working for media houses and refrain from campaigning for certain political candidates,” said Kaikai

He cautioned journalists against being agents of political parties while working in newsrooms to push for individual and politicians’ agenda.

According to Kaikai, while the 2007-2008 post-election violence was blamed on media, the media was not responsible in any way for the chaos that erupted after the elections.

“The famous six who found themselves at the International Criminal Court were five politicians and one journalist. Not a single media house was charged,” Kaikai explained.

Kaikai reiterated that the work of conducting and managing polls is exclusively responsibility of Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC). “Media on the other hand, inform the general public on way the elections processes take place,” said Kaikai.

Wafula Chebukati, chairman IEBC said free, fair, credible and peaceful elections can only be achieved through partnership with media. He noted: “Security personnel also have their part to play four us to achieve the four main objectives.”

Henry Maina, Executive Director at Article 19 hinted it is difficult to hold politicians to account yet media is always blamed for accountability. “It is high time media held politicians accountable for the utterances they make,” challenged Maina.

Haron Mwangi, Chief Executive Officer Media Council of Kenya revealed that currently there are 60 televisions and 156 radio stations licensed and operating in various counties.

“Despite having numbers, 2017 polls remains a major challenge for media to cover as several aspirants have declared interests in various positions,” said Mwangi.

He expressed fears that inter-party competition in nominations and counter party politics will see fights in both online and offline.

“This may lead to fake news flashing in online media and journalists must be in position to decide fake and factual news,” advised Mwangi.

“I know editorial decision will be a complex affair for most editors in various media houses. Decisions will vary but still it has to be accurate and timely to avoid being left behind in reporting,” Mwangi reiterated.

Opinion polls from various pollsters, it was noted, will come up with statistics that may divert the attention of electorate to lose focus. Depending on the interpretation and candidates reactions, potential and right candidates might be left out.

“As much as media houses will be highlighting such opinions polls according to those organizations, media could still be accused of taking sides, criticized or banned from distributing newspapers or operating in certain areas,” Mwangi said.

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