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Role of the media during the Kenyan election
Faith Ndlovu, The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
March 22, 2013
will briefly touch on the following:
on the media; the facilitation process; the media landscape in Kenya;
the media performance; citizen participation and hate speech
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
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
The media cannot
fulfil their role as information providers and watchdogs of the
electoral process if an enabling environment is not created to facilitate
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
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.
landscape in Kenya
of more than 90 FM stations, around 14 television stations and numerous
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.
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
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.
and post 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Speech on social and online media
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
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