Third Eye

Media can’t afford to drop the guide ahead of polls

Thursday, October 21st, 2021 00:00 |
Media sector. Photo/Courtesy

The interest and the role of the media in politics is becoming intriguing by the day.

Politicians are extending influence in media and co-opting media professionals in their search for leadership in next year’s General Election.

Media practitioners and owners are also expressing political ambitions and interests. 

The advent of digital media platforms—which comes with change in media ownership and content gathering, packaging and consumption trends—has not helped the situation. 

However, liberty media—though having to adjust in many ways—is there to stay—but must re-strategise to stay afloat.

It is expected to play a major role in election coverage, and a dereliction of the duty on whatever pretext, should and will not be entertained.

The influence of digital media notwithstanding, many information users still go back to confirm or authenticate content from liberty media. 

As the election season enters fever pitch, it’s important that media in general and journalists in particular re-evaluate their role in promoting a free and credible election through accountable reporting.

This noble public responsibility cannot be wished away or delegated. The industry has a role of public watchdog. 

It’s desirable that the media work towards strengthening solidarity among themselves, pull resources together and create a common agenda to reduce divisions in the sector and ensure media issues are part of the national agenda.

In addition to the traditional roles of the media—civic education, information sharing, accountability and entertainment—it’s clear the media has become central in the business and politics of the country.

Apart from investing heavily in the media in terms of acquisitions and contracting senior journalists to head campaign teams, politicians will soon start splashing big monies through commercials aimed at attracting followers. 

Going forward, trust levels in liberty media will increase. The media should take advantage of this trust by politicians to do massive civic education and vet leaders for the voter ahead of the election. 

This enormous responsibility should be galvanised for the benefit of the nation. Let the media move away from concentrating on personalities and focus on issues that are important to citizens.

Let’s see more analysis of political party manifestos and policies rather than the current dancing shows.

Hopefully, vernacular radio and TV stations, the most cited sources of information in politics, will not go on the extreme and allow biased guests, pundits and sometimes media owners with political ambitions to participate in shows or turn them into tribal or village talks.

Guidelines on election reporting recently launched by the industry, midwifed by the Media Council, have laid down basic common-sense requirements on journalists, media owners and State agencies. 

For instance, media practictioners seeking political positions have been advised to vacate the newsroom six months ahead of the election and journalists required to abide by the basic tenets of journalism including diversity, plurality, inclusivity and being responsible for their content. 

And though journalists and media houses have a right to support or endorse candidates or political parties, such acts should not mean the candidates or parties get undue advantage over others in media coverage. Journalists must remain fair and objective. — The writer is Director Media Training and Development at the Media Council of Kenya, Journalist, Trainer and Media Commentator

More on Third Eye