Veteran Editor Spells out Media’s Role in The Electoral Process

Officials from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission registering voters in the 2016 voter registration exercise. [Photo: Andrew Kilonzi]
Officials from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission registering voters in the 2016 voter registration exercise. [Photo: Andrew Kilonzi]

The crucial role of the media in the entire electoral process was the centre of focus at a recent media workshop organised by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in Nairobi.

Addressing the forum, former Nation Media Group Managing Editor, Joe Kadhi reminded the media not to let Kenyans down in the 2017 polls by shying away from its role as a watchdog.

Kadhi, who recently retired as a lecturer at the United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi, said: “The Fourth Estate has an obligation to fight for an efficient Executive, an independent Judiciary and a Legislature that is representative.”

The veteran editor said Kenyans looking up to the media to ensure that the parameters for free and fair elections were recognized and respected by all stakeholders starting with the Government and IEBC.

According to Kadhi, there are certain conditions that must be met so as to have free and fair elections. These are the Constitutional order and there must be a constitutional framework that allows a pluralistic culture.

The media must ensure that they highlight issues on upholding a legitimate multi-party democracy and at the same time detecting unconstitutional behaviour by reading and studying the Bill of Rights that entrenches issues around human rights as well as other chapters that deal with civil and political rights.

Other freedoms enshrined in the Constitution include those related to conscience, movement and association. Other freedoms are of assembly and expression.

The media must also raise a red flag whenever there is any attempt to undermine the electoral process and/or disrespect any of the above five freedoms by the authorities.

“Executive powers can also be used through frustrating competitive politics and also by using the police to intimidate voters, candidates and journalists,” said Kadhi. He noted: “The reverse is also true.”

Turning to issues on peace, Kadhi urged the media to promote analytical stories on the electoral process and down play those politicians spewing hate speech and divisive propaganda.

In order for peace to prevail during the entire electoral process, Kadhi reiterated that there must be free communication by the IEBC, security forces, the Government and all the political parties as well as other players while upholding, respecting and observing the constitutional order.

Lessons from 2007 polls must never happen again where Kenyans carry arms against fellow Kenyans because of election results of an.

“That was the most embarrassing phase of our nation. Indeed, it was the most shameful part of the country’s history,” said Kadhi. He posed: “Who was to blame for all that?”

The Electoral Commission chairman Samuel Kivuitu, was quoted saying he did not know who won the presidential elections!”

Turning to the role of the media in the electoral process, Kadhi said it must desists from promoting “donkey journalism” (conveyor belt journalism) and instead promote interpretive journalism.

The Electoral Commission’s duty must include ensuring that polls are conducted in a free, fair and transparent atmosphere.

Journalists must always be alert and observe as well as report all activities of IEBC accurately, while the Commission should have no secrets.

One of the IEBC Commissioners, Mohamed Alawi Hussun, said they had learnt their lessons and were determined to ensure that everything was done in the open. The Commission is also ensuring that there is public engagement and participation.

“We are engaging the media because public confidence in IEBC is at the lowest level possible. We want to have the media to focus on our activities in the run up to the 2017 polls,” said Hussun on the eve of the mass voter registration.

Hussun asked the media to consider ethical ways of reporting news, when to report and to consider the consequences.

According to Hussun, the Commission had registered over 150,000 in the past year and their target is to register eight million voters by May 2017.

Yusuf Nzibo, the IEBC Commissioner for Nairobi County in charge of media committee, lamented that most Kenyans have a short memory. Nzibo noted that the last Parliament removed every qualification from the Electoral laws including language proficiency, except that of Governor.

“The new electoral law has increased the time for a civil servant to resign before polls to one year from six months. We are better off than Tanzania because their Constitution says once the Electoral Commission declares the name of the presidential race winner, there is no room for appeal like in Kenya,” explained Nzibo.

In 2013, IEBC faced challenges on eve of the first General Election under the 2010 Constitution which created six seats to be contested for because of security threats in some parts of the.

The IEBC has an 800 page document on details of the 2013 polls.

Party nomination was very controversial and affected the final turnout and results of the polls. Officially, out of the total number of registered voters, 86 per cent voted in 2013.

“How do we empower our people? People say polls are expensive. In Ireland, they don’t have agents at polls, at end of exercise a private firm picked them took them to electoral commission to count and announce,” Nzibo says.

According to Nzibo, the problem facing Kenyans is suspicion. He urged the media to play its watchdog roll more effectively to ensure peaceful, free and fair polls next year.

Asked whether smart phones could compromise privacy of voters on Election Day, Nzibo said they were still studying its positive and negative influence on the electoral process.

However, Nzibo was categorical that IEBC made a mistake by introducing new technology on the eve of the 2013 General Election, saying: “this was part of problem in 2013”.

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