By Victor Bwire
The expected role of the Kenyan media in politics is becoming intriguing by the day, especially as politicians extend ownership of media stations and co-opt journalists in their pursuit for power.
With a General Election in August, it’s important that the media re-evaluate their role in the quest for a free, credible and acceptable election, voter education, enhance professionalism and accountability and improve the working environment for media practitioners.
The media must work towards creating solidarity and a common agenda for the media fraternity to not only reduce divisions, 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 can be seen in the big rush to own media houses and embed journalists in their campaigns. In addition to investing heavily in the media in terms of acquisitions and contracting senior journalists to head their campaign teams, politicians and parties are splashing a lot of money on commercials and advertisements to attract followers.
This is well and good. What is worrying is that a number of talk shows and advertisements are flouting professional ethics, some even bordering on hate speech and incitement to violence.
Vernacular radio and TV stations have gone to the the extent of allowing openly biased sources/guests, and sometimes media owners with political ambitions, to participate or host shows which end up becoming tribal talk instead of serious discussions on matters 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 for selling political candidates to voters in a way that blurs the line between serious issue oriented politics and commercial might of 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.
But the most delicate is live coverage of charged political events. This is proving to be a nightmare to journalists, especially when the contents of the speeches are deemed to have a negative tone.
While journalists have a right to support a candidate/party of their choice, and media houses are free endorse a party /candidate, such endorsement would 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. These 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.
The media should take advantage of the trust by politicians to do massive civic education and vet candidates for the voters ahead of the General Election. This enormous responsibility and advantage should be galvanised 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 analysis of political party manifestos and policies than the dancing shows we are currently seeing.