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Role of the media during the Kenyan election
Faith Ndlovu, The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
March 22, 2013

My presentation will briefly touch on the following:

Expectations on the media; the facilitation process; the media landscape in Kenya; the media performance; citizen participation and hate speech

The role/expectations of the media during an election

1. The media’s role is generally recognised as being to inform, educate and entertain
2. Therefore during an important national process like elections, media are expected to keep people informed about the issues, the parties and candidates and the management of the electoral process itself
3. Media are expected to perform this role in a balanced, fair and accurate manner in order to provide credible information and also in recognition of the media as a watchdog and a key indicator of credible elections

The facilitation process

The media cannot fulfil their role as information providers and watchdogs of the electoral process if an enabling environment is not created to facilitate this.

To this end, the Kenyan authorities as well as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission are to be credited for creating an enabling environment for the media to report on the electoral process. Foreign media like Al Jazeera, CNN among others were duly accredited to freely scrutinise and report on the process alongside the local Kenyan media.

We saw the media being free to move around and report on any aspect of the poll, right from the campaigns to the voting process, to the vote counting process which was open to everyone; and the election aftermath.

This kind of media freedom is important in enhancing openness and transparency of the electoral process.

Media landscape in Kenya

Kenya boasts of more than 90 FM stations, around 14 television stations and numerous newspapers.

Both in an everyday situation and especially during important national processes, multiple sources of information are important in promoting transparency, accountability and diversity of views.

Media performance/role played by the media in Kenya

I was in Kenya for seven days and my comments will therefore be limited to my direct observations during this period.

The media generally played a fair role in keeping people informed about the electoral process.


In the period leading up to the elections, both the public and private media like Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation, National TV, Citizen TV, and the ‘The Standard’ newspaper among others, kept voters informed about the electoral laws governing such things as campaigning, the role of, and management of the election by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and the electoral regulations. They also kept audiences informed about the candidates, their policies, and their campaign activities on the eve of the election.

Voting and post election

On Election Day, the media closely followed proceedings, with television providing live coverage in some areas and participation of Kenyans outside the country. They highlighted things like the voter turn-out, and kept the spotlight on the voting process throughout election day.

In the election aftermath, the media played a very critical role of keeping people informed of the vote counting process at every stage, thereby to some extent inhibiting speculation and anxiety. Furthermore, given the history of electoral disputes and post-election violence, the media in conjunction with other players played a proactive role in promoting peace and reconciliation, giving publicity to calls for peace by the different actors. These calls also highlighted possible remedies in case of electoral disputes like the courts, hence helping to calm anxiety.

To a large extent, the Kenyan media should be commended for amplifying the message of peace and being factual, rather than sensational in their coverage of the elections. During the vote counting process, most of the media stuck to providing the emerging facts as provided by the IEBC, without sensationalising the issues.

The Kenyan public broadcaster should also be commended for giving extensive coverage to the elections and the contesting parties. Although the station gave more coverage to the two leading parties (CORD Alliance and Jubilee Alliance), it tried to be balanced in its coverage by giving equitable coverage to the contesting parties thereby ensuring that at least all parties receive some level of publicity.

However, a major shortcoming with the Kenyan media’s general performance is that problems with the electronic transmission of results, the failure of the biometric system and some cases general concerns about the voting process like delayed opening of polls, confusion among registered voters due to inadequate information, did not receive as much prominent media coverage.

Other issues raised by the western media also featured less prominently in the Kenyan media which seemed determined to steer clear of any controversy by ‘promoting’ peace and reconciliation.

These issues were mainly raised by the western media and mainly included alleged irregularities. For example, the announcement by the CORD alliance leader Raila Odinga that it wanted the tallying of ballots stopped and an audit conducted received more prominent coverage in the western media than the local media which focused more on the electoral commission’s explanations on technical glitches to the electronic system without much questioning.

The major lesson for me therefore is that while it is commendable for the media to preach peace, this should not be at the expense of the watchdog role that the public expects. It is the media that has the social responsibility to raise concerns of any group of citizens in any public or governance process.

Citizen participation

Platforms like the Uchaguzi platform, the Women’s Situation Room and the Election Observe Group situation room empowered citizens to be part of the electoral process, reporting and scrutinising the process. These platforms gave ordinary people the opportunity to report on both positive and negative developments surrounding the voting process and the election aftermath, thereby enhancing transparency and credibility of the poll.

These reports by citizens also enabled authorities like the police, the electoral commission to respond swiftly to arising issues, thereby creating an enabling environment for citizens to exercise their rights and perhaps get a measure of confidence about the process and build a sense of ownership as well.

Hate Speech on social and online media

However, the flipside to citizens’ reporting is that there are no gatekeepers thus the presence of negative influences like hate speech as seen in Kenyan online platforms during this period. This was especially so in the period after the elections mainly on social media platforms such as Facebook and twitter, with The Standard newspaper reporting the possible arrest of four individuals over hate speech spread online.

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