The on-going electioneering and concluded General Election in Kenya has seen media researchers, monitors and commentators give a varied assessments of the media performance generally.
Starting with individual assessment and failures by journalists/media practitioners, inadequacies in media houses, owners/advertisers meddling, fake news to structural challenges, have been cited as among the major challenges facing the media in Kenya.
The question is largely about, is it media capture, impunity amongst journalists or simply professional and policy related gaps, that has pushed the media in Kenya to perform below expectations? It would seem political and technology capture is issues media in Kenya must deal urgently.
A number of journalists and media houses, are easily getting their brands targeted in serious smear campaign that is spoiling their professional obligation and business. In such a volatile political and highly tribal environment, will some media brands survive? What is the cost to the brands? In the era of crowd sourcing, people are releasing hate speech and related foul content online, which they ascribe to certain media brands, and without proof pushing for action to be taken against such media from regulators.
But is it capture and impunity which is affecting the media most or professionalism and training?Why is it that audiences seem dissatisfied with the media, despite phenomenal growth in the industry? Are media houses investing creatively to enable journalists perform at optimum? Where is the gap in the news production process? Are the efforts towards improving media performance spread enough to support the level of satisfaction we want? Is the quality management in our media houses integrated enough to support a quality news product? Have we invested enough in training production editors, producers, programme controllers, researchers? Do media houses and journalists care about their brands anymore?
Indeed it seems, the media is held hostages to the usual personality oriented rather than issue oriented presentation of news, drop in moderation skills by radio presenters, poor selection of guests during their shows, fake news, irresponsible content, biases and planted stories. Fake news is also destroying many media brands in Kenya, and audiences must be keen to identify this problem.
The media in Kenya may be characterised as vibrant and diverse with five national newspapers, 60 television stations and 139 FM stations. Media Council of Kenya has accredited nearly 3000 journalists’ majority professionals with educational levels above a diploma. The industry has very experienced journalists with long experience in covering elections, and there is a lot of support from media support groups and development partners.
Among the crucial role expected to be played by the media include watchdog role, disseminates information, entertains, educates and sensitizes the public to take action including participating in elections. The flow of information is important for the citizen participation in events including voter registration, voting process, reporting transmission of results and election outcome and the media facilitates this. Without a wide array of information, people’s opinions, ideas and views would be limited and their impressions, understanding and conclusions of the world around them stunted.
Granted, the rise of online media usage has not been without our perennial problem- tribalism, insults and lack of any known mannerisms and for that, use of online media platforms has attracted new laws and administrative codes aimed at regulating online journalism. Online news production and dissemination has enormous opportunities in educating Kenyans and cementing peaceful existence.
Pundits opine that the biggest challenge to media freedom and independent journalism today in Kenya, as in most countries globally, is the systemic political corruption where private interests have taken a toll on and influenced the decision-making process in news/content production. Increasingly, a model of captive, politically instrumentalized news media financed by owners, corporations, social and political groups, or government, is becoming dominant in Kenya. As elsewhere globally, this challenge have come out big time now, when electioneering process is in top gear and seem to have had severe consequences on independent media and journalism.