Community Advocacy on Environmental and Social Justice

Friday, 15 March 2013

Kenya Media A Major Sham On Elections Reporting.

    To Be Prudent Is to Be Partial By MICHELA WRONG  
    NAIROBI — Over the years I’ve come to view the Kenyan media with a mixture
    of respect and affection.
    Like the press pack anywhere, Kenyan journalists liked their beer and could wolf down a buffet in a heartbeat, and the odd brown envelope definitely changed hands. But they were brave.
    “The best press in Africa,” I told anyone who cared to listen.

    So Kenya’s recent election<>has
    been a baffling, frustrating time.

    In the last few weeks, Western journalists — myself included — have become
    pariahs, lambasted by Kenya’s twitterati and Facebook users for our
    coverage and threatened by the government with

    The fury seems exaggerated, given the relative rarity of offending
    articles. Western reports have attracted undue interest, I’m convinced,
    because domestic coverage, while increasingly slick, has been so lifeless.
    It sometimes feels as though a zombie army has taken up position where
    Kenya’s feisty media used to be, with local reporters going glaze-eyed
    through the motions.

    This malaise was most obvious last week during briefings by the Independent
    Electoral and Boundaries Commission at the tallying center in Bomas, just
    outside Nairobi, when what had been billed as a high-tech, tamper-proof
    election <>began
    to unravel spectacularly<>.
    The Kenyan media of old would have gone for the jugular. But when the
    commission chairman, Issack Hassan, after describing yet another puzzling
    technical glitch or mysterious delay, asked, “Any questions?” the response
    was stunned silence.

    It was the same when independent election monitors announced their
    findings. Given just how many anomalies were surfacing, the upbeat
    assessments of observers from the African Union, the European Union and the
    Commonwealth seemed inexcusably complacent<>.
    Yet once again, Kenyan journalists left most of the questions to their Western counterparts.

    Lethargy should not be mistaken for laziness. Yes, rumors are swirling
    about payoffs and conflicts of interest. But this professional surrender,
    ironically, appears to stem from the very best of intentions.

    During the violence that followed the 2007 election<>, when militias burned families out of their houses and executed members of
    rival ethnic communities, Kenya’s media played a not-entirely-innocent
    role. Hate speech spread by vernacular radio stations<>and via SMS egged on the men with machetes, just as they once had in
    Rwanda. One of the three indictees facing trial before the International
    Criminal Court in The Hague is Joshua arap Sang<>,
    who ran the Kalenjin-language radio station Kass FM.

    Chastened by that experience, media executives reached a gentlemen’s
    avoid anything that might whip up ethnic tensions ahead of this year’s
    election. There would be no live coverage of announcements or press
    conferences by political parties.

    “Last time,” the media “were part of the problem,” a Kenyan broadcaster
    told me. “They were corrupted; they were irresponsible. So this time there
    was a feeling that we had to keep everyone calm, at the expense, if
    necessary, of our liberties.”

    But self-censorship comes at a price: political impartiality. The decision
    not to inflame ethnic passions meant that media coverage shifted in favor
    of whoever took an early
    in this case Uhuru

    Hours after the CORD alliance of the opposition leader Raila Odinga
    announced that it wanted the tallying of ballots
    stopped<>and an audit conducted, Kenyan radio D.J.’s were still cheerfully assuring
    listeners that everything was on track. That may have prevented passions in
    Odinga’s Luo community from exploding, but it was a massive distortion of
    the truth. Patrick Gathara

    The local media swiftly fell into the habit of brushing off CORD’s
    declarations. Television broadcasts of Odinga’s announcement that he would
    challenge the outcome of the election before the Supreme Court
    switched to Uhuru’s acceptance speech<>before the Q. and A. with Odinga had even begun. By this Wednesday, Kenya’s largest newspaper devoted more space to the selection of a new pope than to
    the lawsuits being prepared by CORD and civil society groups.

    The Kenyan media’s self-restraint reveals a society terrified by its own
    capacity for violence. “What maturity is this that trembles at the first
    sign of disagreement or challenge?” asked the Kenyan cartoonist Patrick
    Gathara in a superb blog post<>,
    citing a national “peace lobotomy.” He went on: “What peace lives in the
    perpetual shadow of a self-annihilating violence?”

    Shortly before handing Uhuru his winner’s certificate, the chairman of the
    election commission congratulated <> the
    Kenyan media on their “exemplary behavior.” As he did, the screen above his
    head was showing figures that did not add up.

    Any journalist worth their salt should start feeling itchy when praised by
    those in authority. The recent accolades will chafe as more polling
    irregularities become public. The media should be asking themselves
    whether, in their determination to act responsibly, they allowed another
    major abuse to occur right before their eyes.

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