Kenya's Looming Elections: Role of Media

Published on 5th June 2012

Journalists in action                                     Photo courtesy
The Kenyan media should be at the frontline in defining the leadership pattern the citizens should follow during the electioneering period. While we are not used to political endorsements by the media in Kenya, I think it’s a trend we need to see so long as it’s done fairly, objectively, in good faith and based on the policy issues of those running for political office.

In the West, major media houses endorse candidates after a thorough research and analysis of one’s agenda based on popular opinion. Our news anchors, reporters, editorial personnel, columnists and commentators have a great role to help build a better Kenya by ensuring that what is injected into the minds of the citizens will create harmony, peace and understanding.

I hold the media fraternity with high esteem the way I do to teachers. While the latter shape a person’s skills, knowledge and professional career, the former reports and analyses current events and often gives a critical view and conclusion on issues which enhance the lives of people in the society.

Rather than remain on the grey when the citizens need guidance and direction, it will be fair if the media went spot on; giving facts on the values, characters and behavior of candidates who want to take the leadership mantle. If the New York Times of USA and The Guardian of the UK endorse candidates running for office, we need to see the same trend in Kenya so long as it’s done objectively and without favourism.

Major Editors and columnists should go down to business and grill aspiring leaders who are currently hopping from location to location trying to entice voters with slates of promises. The aspiring leaders ought to be grilled heavily especially on policy issues which the media should translate to the Kenyan audience. Voters ought to know the viability of the promises and if the promises are achievable, resonate well with the aspirations of the people of Kenya and are in tandem with our current laws.

We wake up every morning thinking what our print media, radi and TV are carrying in terms of where Kenya is moving. The media played a pivotal role in the emancipation of our nation from the one party dictatorship in the late 80s and early 90s. Kenyans expect the same media to give direction especially now that we are under a new constitutional dispensation, which has a great promise for our nation.

We will never forget the role played by the Nairobi Law Monthly formerly managed by Hon. Gitobu Imanyara, the Economist owned by Njehu Gatabaki and Society of Pius Nyamora. The three magazines fearlessly advocated for the repeal of section (2a) of the former constitution to pave the way for multiparty democracy.

I’m not trying to imply that our mass media should embark on political activism but to act as a mirror through which better leadership practices are nurtured, debated and shaped; thereby giving clear and informed direction for the nation.

The leadership we have defines the amount of freedom the media will exercise in its noble role as a guide, advisor, informer, ventilator, educator, dissector, and a critique of national and global matters.  I’m convinced that if any of those who were behind the Standard Group raid was vying for the Presidency, the level of criticism to such an aspiring leader will be heavy and the media will not advise Kenyan voters to elect the perpetrators of the raid.

Come on the Standard Group and Nation Media amongst others media Houses and hit the nail on the head on the strengths and weaknesses of aspiring national leaders! If every day we read your headlines and watch your news, you need to come out with a clear analysis of the agenda of the candidates who are vying for the Presidency in order for Kenyan voters to make informed choices before election day.

It’s encouraging that the media is the number one purveyor of civic education to the masses. Whether it’s through vernacular stations, mainstream media, tabloids or gutter press, Kenyans have a high reading and listening culture on matter of political leadership and  if the content is geared to helping them understand the status of our nation and enable them make better decisions, this is the best form of civic education the media will offer to Kenyans.

The more the media remained objective, focused, fair, truthful and clear in its reporting, the higher the chances of seeing these values infuse into the national psyche; hence helping build a better citizenry. The media should continue helping us overcome negative ethnicity, strife, corruption, hate speech and propaganda which are mooted by our politicians. Those who continue to incite and propagate hate before Kenyans must be condemned by our media at all times.

By Joseph Lister Nyaringo
New Jersey, USA.

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