Thursday, 25 Jul 2013

Zombie media?

We became a country so afraid of our own shadows that we did not question the election process. - Gordon Adam

By Ida Jooste, Country Director, Internews in Kenya.

The media in Kenya has done some self-reflection on its role in the 2013 elections. In a series of articles commissioned by the Media Council of Kenya, practicing journalists and media analysts set out to answer the question: How responsible was the media in their coverage? see full report

In his assessment, Wellingtone Nyongesa, news editor at Radio Maisha (Standard Group), quotes journalist Michela Wrong, who wrote "It's our turn to eat", an exposé of the security threats faced by Kenyan whistle blower John Githongo. Wrong has unkind words for the Kenyan media's performance in 2013. She views the congratulations that IEBC chairperson Issack Hassan extended to the media just before announcing the elections results as a red flag. In an opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune, Wrong wrote: "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."; She points out that this praise came as problematic election results were flashing across results screens behind Hassan. Wrong further said that coverage by Kenyan journalists was slick, but lifeless."It sometimes feels as though a zombie army has taken up position where Kenya's feisty media used to be,"; she wrote.

"Did we fail in our role? Absolutely not!", says Anne Kiguta, a news anchor at KTN. A week after the General Election, Ann congratulated her colleagues in the industry for a job well done, "not a perfect job but given the circumstances, pretty good".

This is also the view of Kenya Editors Guild Chairman Macharia Gaitho. He feels the Kenyan media's coverage of the last election was "not perfect and yet not imperfect?. Gaitho asks us to consider what it is that the media was supposed to do or ask that it did not do and ask, saying criticism or praise have come mostly from the losers and the winners, respectively, so he believes there are few objective assessments of the media's performance.

In a just concluded evaluation of Internews Conflict Sensitive Journalism training program, Gordon Adam, Director of media consultancy firm iMedia, writes "the burning issue on media coverage of the 2013 election has been whether there was self censorship as a reaction to all the warnings to the media about stirring up violence and the perceived threat of more ICC action". Adam says the fact that one of the indicted individuals from the events of 2007 is a journalist had caused some nervousness among the Kenyan media and he asks if conflict sensitive journalism could have contributed to this tendency. But Internews partner journalists interviewed for Adams' evaluation said they took care to give candidates equal airtime and they were subjected to more rigorous questioning than -in some cases-they were used to. Adams notes that "politicians, too, were much more careful in what they said compared to 2007, resulting in fewer tricky editorial decisions having to be made about what to publicise and what to withhold because of the risk of incitement".

As Adam notes, the media has been most criticized about keeping silent over delays, exacerbated by the failure of technology in reporting the election results. The evaluation quotes a journalist as saying "we became a country so afraid of our own shadows that we did not question the election process. "

What do YOU think? Did journalists and their media houses play it safe because of this shadow? Were Kenyan journalists zombies in this election? Did they do the best they could, given no-one would have wanted to enflame hatred or party political sentiments?

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