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Telling it differently

Date Posted : Tuesday, 05 Mar 2013

By Ida Jooste, Country Director, Internews in Kenya.

By Ida Jooste, Country Director, Internews in Kenya.
“Nairobi’s notorious traffic jam was replaced by the traffic jam of eager voters”.(Nairobi is one of the four worst congested cities in the world).
“Apart from the targeted killing of police officers in Mombasa, this is -so far- a ‘good news’ election.”
March 4, 2013 - Kenya’s historic election day. All day long, radio and TV stations presented comprehensive election coverage; live crossings to voting stations, commentary from opinion makers and ongoing appeals to voters and assurances from politicians that this time, Kenya should be remembered for conducting peaceful elections, and for accepting the outcome. Most of the coverage was upbeat, patriotic, and constructive.
“It’s not the chaos story that sensation-seeking journalists were hoping for”, says Jacque Ooko, a radio trainer for Internews Free and Fair Media project in Kenya.
The shadow of �the 2007/8 election was always going to hang over this election. Kenya was plunged into chaos, about 1 200 died in ethnic clashes and more than half a million people were displaced. The media stood accused of complicity in flaming ethnic hatred. A radio talk show host was indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in sowing division in the volatile Rift Valley, where much of the brutal killing happened.
Internews in Kenya demonstrated resilient capacity to rapidly respond to the 2007/08 post-election violence, by organizing emergency media forums, ad hoc training workshops and mentoring. Since then, Internews has been deeply engaged with media through a variety of USAID funded Democracy and Governance interventions.

Internews Land & Conflict Sensitive Journalism program has used the internationally respected “conflict sensitive journalism” approach to train editors, journalists and talk-show hosts to produce media reports that contribute constructively to the political discourse, and to inform citizens in conflict affected areas.  The methodology emphasizes that journalists can play a mediation role within communities where there is conflict. Since January 2010, the Land & Conflict Sensitive Journalism (L&CSJ) program has trained over 300 reporters, editors and talk show hosts from community and vernacular media using conflict sensitive approaches. It has improved the technical capacity of 36 partner news stations thus supporting the production of approximately 2,800 media stories regarding peace and reconciliation.

The Free and Fair Media program in Kenya has complemented this effort by steering journalists and media houses through Kenya’s complex electoral process. “We were the invisible link between journalists and the Independent Electoral Commission”, says Caleb Atemi, who heads the Free and Fair Media program. “Trust had to be built between the new electoral body and journalists, who were left stranded by a non-communicative commission, who were likely complicit in the 2007 vote rigging.”

Since August 2011, the Free and Fair Media program has trained over 250 journalists from mainstream media on election reporting, and supported the production of over 1,000 election stories.
A third Internews journalism intervention program, TalkCheck, aimed at countering hate speech in Kenya’s Coast region , is working with radio stations and citizens to identify and respond to hate speech on air and in public places. Journalist Lilian Mwangala of Radio Rahma in Mombasa says when reports of tension in parts of Coast Province came in, she was not completely surprised, because the signs had been there. “Nevertheless some areas were peaceful, which was a blessing”, says Mwangala, an Internews trainee, who has been keen to eliminate on air hate speech.

Initiatives such as TalkCheck have made journalists watchful over the words they use - when describing different ethnic communities or reporting on conflict. “In fact, they are now ultra-cautious - our next step would have to be to introduce nuance. If a politician is guilty of hate speech, it must not be censored either. It is possible to be conflict sensitive and to tell the truth”, says Brice Rambaud, the Director for Democracy and Governance journalism training programs in Kenya.

In addition to long-term democracy and governance programs, Internews in Kenya has introduced online and ICT tools to help journalists tell this election story differently.

When media houses clubbed together in February to jointly host Kenya’s first ever Presidential debates, it was an opportunity for posturing for the candidates. Journalists were able to fact-check politicians’ pronouncements, interrogate the feasibility of the promises in their manifestos and on campaign trails through the Internews data journalism portal. At a roundtable, held on� February 22, experts provided further tips on how to challenge political promises. This helped journalists move away from reporting what politicians say to checking whether what they say is achievable.

During the second Presidential debate on� February 25, Internews hosted live expert commentary on the candidates’ statements on the Kenyan economy and land, a highly charged subject, as election violence was centered on land grabbing and the lack of land reform in Kenya. Almost a thousand content-rich tweets were sent by Internews trainees, commenting on the candidates’ proclamations.
Internews also established KURA SASA , a platform where journalists trained by the Internews' Land & Conflict Sensitive Journalism project post stories, analysis and exchange ideas.

For Atemi and Ooko and Rambaud and colleagues, this election would be a job well done if it is found that the media has created the conditions for a peaceful election and if journalists have created a platform for understanding and dialogue. “This I believe they have done”, says Rambaud. “They are telling the story differently, they are delivering messages responsibly”
But the story remains a difficult one to tell. On the one hand, there are complexities around the fact that a Presidential candidate and his running mate were both indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in the 2007/2008 post-election violence. On the other hand, the Kenya Human Rights Commission is cautiously optimistic about police and other reforms. On the one hand, the emergence of armed militias keeps ordinary people in fear, on the other hand robust civil society efforts and the lessons from the past provide hope for the new constitutional era with more grassroots power through the new devolved governance structures.

Increased ownership of media by politicians remains a threat to independence of the media. An Internews study, Factually True, Legally Untrue shows how media ownership is an attractive and effective way to keep political interests alive. Yet, on the other hand, there is broad consensus that media institutions are more effective at self-regulation in an effort to undo the damage of 2007/8.
A case of once bitten, twice shy, perhaps”, says Rambaud. But media houses were determined to tell the story of Kenya’s elections differently.For me it will be a job well done if the losers will celebrate with the winners”, says Atemi.“We will not only have told the story differently, but it would be a different story to tell”.