We are not to blame, Editors say

August 26, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, August 26 – The media has dismissed allegations that it fanned post election violence.

Chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild Macharia Gaitho testified at the Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence (CIPEV) on Tuesday where he strongly defended media houses.

“The media employed professional journalism throughout the 2007 General election campaigns. Both the print and electronic media should therefore, not be blamed in any way for promoting violence,” he emphasised.

Gaitho, who is the Managing Editor in charge of Special Projects at the Nation Media Group, was appearing in his capacity as the chairperson of the Editor’s guild.

The Guild is a fraternity of editors who seek to promote ethics and professionalism in the media.

“Politicians are squarely to blame for promoting violence in this country. The media upheld the highest level of professionalism and was even involved in promoting peace messages when this country was in chaos,” he told the commission.

While admitting that some news organisations might have published or transmitted hate messages on specific occasions, he said such media companies should be held individually responsible if there is evidence linking them to the chaos.

Gaitho said he was opposed to the blanket condemnation on the Kenyan media suggesting that it fuelled the chaos that claimed the lives of over 1,000 people and displaced 350,000 others.

“The media can not be blamed as a whole, there might be specific instances where hate messages may have slipped through call-in radio programmes,” he said.

He took issue with submissions by Information and Communications Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo, who testified at the commission last week and accused the media for fuelling the skirmishes.

Gaitho urged the PS to pursue individual cases where he has evidence and stop condemning the media as a whole.

In his testimony before the Commission, Ndemo had said that the Ministry had documented evidence and transcripts of hate messages allegedly aired during and after the 2007 General elections.

Some of the transcripts are part of the evidence the PS has pledged to provide to the Commission before it winds up its public and private hearings.

Gaitho, who appeared to represent editors from the mainstream media, sought to differ with the PS’s submissions.

He tabled newspaper cuttings which were published on same day with the headline ‘Save our Beloved Country’ to back his submission.

“I therefore emphasise here that all the accusations about the media are generalised. They are based on a lack of understanding on how the media operates and a refusal that the problem is politicians who go out and fan violence to meet their ends,” he said.

Asked what steps the Guild had taken to curb hate speech in the country he said; “We were in support of a bill against hate speech which was introduced in Parliament, but was later shot down by politicians.”

Gaitho was also taken to task to explain why the media was ‘too quick to announce preliminary presidential results that were not certified by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK).’

He said the media was justified to announce the preliminary presidential results because they had been relayed by Returning Officers in respective constituencies.

“The media was getting their results from the ground, if the ECK was too slow to get the results from their officials that is their own problem,” he said.

The Chairman was responding to claims that announcing preliminary results may have contributed to heightening the violence in various parts of the country.

The Commission resumes its public hearings on Wednesday morning, when it is expected to hear evidence from representatives of political parties who failed to show up on Tuesday.

Justice Philip Waki, who is chairing the commission, said the political parties had thrown them off-balance because they failed to appear for two consecutive days as had been scheduled.

“I have given them until tomorrow (Wednesday) to show up failure to which we will go ahead to compile our report without their input,” he said, and at the same time urged any other individual or group wishing to testify to do so before Wednesday evening.



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