The interest and expected role of the media in the political life of Kenya is becoming intriguing day-by-day, especially as politicians extend ownership of media stations and co-opt journalists in their search for leadership of the country through the 2017 General Election.
With an election in August, it’s important that media re-evaluates its role in the search for a free, credible and acceptable election, voter education, improve media professionalism and accountability within the industry and above all, improve the working environment for media practitioners in the country.
The media must work towards creating solidarity and a common agenda for the media fraternity in the country to not only reduce the divisions in the sector, but ensure that media issues are part of the national agenda and that a conducive environment is created for the media to play its role in national development unhindered.
That the media has become central in the business and politics of the country can be seen in the big rush to own media and embed journalists by the political class.
In addition to investing heavily in the media in terms of acquisitions, contracting senior journalists to head their campaign teams, the political class is splashing serious monies through commercials and advertisements in a bid to attract followers. A number of the talk shows and advertisements are flouting all known professional ethics in journalism and border on hate speech or incitement to violence.
In addition, live coverage of some charged political rallies/events is proving a nightmare to journalists, especially when the content of the speeches are deemed negative.
The media should take advantage of this trust by politicians to do massive civic education and vetting leaders for the Kenyan voters ahead of the 2017 General Election. This enormous responsibility and advantage should be galvanized for the benefit of the country.
Let the media move away from concentrating on personalities and dwell on issues that are important to Kenyans. Let us see more and more analysis of political party manifestos and policies in the media more that the dancing shows we are currently seeing.
Vernacular radio and TV stations have gone to the extreme, and are allowing openly biased sources/guests and sometimes media owners with political ambition to participate or host political shows which end up becoming tribal or village talk rather than serious discussions that affect Kenyans.
Political advertisements and sometimes idle airtime through the 24-hour service by radio and TV stations that have no serious content are the vehicle selling political candidates to voters in a way that blurs the line between serious issue-oriented politics and commercial mighty by candidates.
Political adverts, either through paid up content or paid out airtime during talk shows (interestingly, some stations are charging for participation in news segments) have become a product sold to Kenyans and not what they stand for.
Journalists have a right to choose and support a candidate/party of their choice, and media houses are free to endorse a party /candidate, but such endorsement shouldn’t then mean you give the candidate/party undue advantage over others or slant stories in their favour. The journalists’ expectation of fairness and objectivity still stands.
Politicians and party leaders no longer organise for grassroots support and campaigns, they do not educate voters on the rights and expectations nor encourage them to vote, as should be the case.
Media are now providing the all-important link between voters and parties. This has denied the voters the chance to interact and understand party policies and manifestos and engage party leaders substantively and even compare merits and demerits of various party manifestoes.