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President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga display the BBI report handed to thm on October 21, 2020 in Kisii.


Media must remain balanced in BBI debate even though its issues are not captured

Media missed out in the Building Bridges Initiative report, just like some few segments of the society, but we believe by the time the final document is reviewed ahead of the referendum, issues affecting the industry will find be catered for. The sector presented its position to the team. Looking at how the country reacts and treats the media whenever there are issues that shake the country a bit, it’s important that some media is entrenched into any national narrative in the country.

All the reports that have attempted to look at historical injustices, human rights violations and electoral related violence have a chapter on the media; it is curious that the BBI report missed a mention, maybe in the annexes.

The country must define which media structure and policy it wants, and as a national resource, how it is managed, not just as a business, but a key player in shaping the kind of accountability and transparency processes we want to pursue.

A number of issues authorities have raised about the media such as media and national security, national development, contribution to the knowledge society, crime, harmful content among others can be addressed through a policy on “must carry obligation”, media cross-ownership to name but a few should be addressed in such national documents.

Having said that, we expect media, even without being accorded space in the report to cover the matter professionally and allow Kenyans to interact with the document in a manner that benefits them, and not focus on sideshows and non-issues.

Focus should be on informative and factual discussion that will inform, educate and sensitize the public to make decisions. After the fanfare during the launch of the report at Bomas, media has the professional responsibility and civic duty to help by delving deeper into the report, and picking out the substantive issues that will help Kenya address some of the sticky issues that have faced the country over the years.

Unlike in the past, where numerous such reports have been ignored or used for short -term gains, hopefully, the current political will and gusto will allow the BBI process and report to provide meaningful lessons for Kenyans, that adds’ value. It should not be reduced to which politicians will gain from the process only, but which of the suggestions and recommendations, can be improved for the benefit of Kenyans, however difficult it is.

We expect editorial discretion and journalistic professional judgments on the discussions and contents of the report devoid of personal and high octane polarized positions by the media, aware that there are those intent on using the report to introduce irresponsible narratives in the name of freedom of expression.

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A robust and fair discussion of the process, content, flaws and positives will be encouraging and exciting away from the already seemingly created situation of either “accept or reject”.

Media should avoid presenting the BBI report as a “do or die” event that will immediately solve the problems facing the country, but a process among others that have been tried and is expected, if treated differently, to show another side of Kenya and her many attempts to deal with tempting national issues.

The media must be very cautious and firm in handling the national debate on the matters raised and this time create functional fact checking desks to hold accountable some of the pundits and politicians that will be participating in the debates. As usual, there are loose canons that must be held accountable and made to provide facts for the baseless claims that will be propagating across media platforms without shame.

Let media hold politicians accountable and push them hard to provide facts about claims they make, about even obvious known historical facts. The media must not be drawn into the circus. Remain fearless, professional and facts remain sacred in the debate.

Initially, members of the BBI technical Committee must be allowed to participate in the panels and allowed to expound on the details of some of the proposals, as we gradually allow in the normal faces to weigh in with their politics.

A thorough discussion of the pros and cons of the suggestions from the report is expected. Kenyans must be allowed to be educated by the media on the advantages of the Presidential and Parliamentary systems of Government.

What is the best governance system in a country like Kenya full of weak political leaders, confused political parties with such diverse ethnic groups and grave historical injustices?

The fear that any of the big tribes will conspire to exclude others from leadership and access to other national resources is real and must be confronted.

Victor Bwire Works at the Media Council of Kenya as the Head of Media Development & Strategy.

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