Media-Parliament collaboration is paramount
Parliament deserves respect from the public and the members themselves. Given its central role in the country’s governance, the House needs support from every Kenyan.
We must invest in it financially, through extra support services and strengthening its oversight role to ensure other arms of government, especially the Executive, enforce the decisions of parliamentary committees.
To enhance the oversight role of the legislature, the government needs to allocate Parliament sufficient resources to support the work of committees. The legislators should also consider engaging Kenyans directly through outreach programmes, to make sure the public understands their role beyond what the media portrays.
Because of the unseemly behaviour of some members and the partisan positions that they sometimes take on matters of national importance, many people tend to dismiss them, which has greatly affected Parliament’s status in the eyes of the public.
While MPs sometimes fail to meet our expectations, the media portrayal can be harsh and unfair to legislators.
The truth is that there are many serious, committed and focused MPs doing a great job in serving Kenyans. They are committed to delivering on their oversight, legislative and representation roles.
Oftentimes, Kenyans judge MPs on how they manage the constituency development kitty and their political party work, and not on their contribution to Parliamentary debates, committee work and representing Kenyans locally and internationally.
MPs spend a lot of time reading investigative documents and reports, sit for several hours sometimes late into the night reading bills and scrutinising international conventions and agreements relevant to Kenya. They also attend to national and constituency issues. All this requires a lot of commitment, tenacity and sacrifice.
The work of Parliament will gain a lot from enhanced professional collaboration between media and Parliament. The two need to have a collaborative relationship, instead of an antagonistic one. For example, the media should provide high calibre coverage of Parliament and its deliberations to enable Kenyans appreciate their work.
Given its importance, Parliament may need a specialised or consistent team of journalists covering it, who are exposed to skills upgrade and training for deeper understanding of Parliamentary procedures and issues.
The media also needs to be more specific in condemning or exposing dishonourable behaviour among MPs instead of issuing a blanket condemnation of the whole institution.
If, for example, some MPs vote against national interests in the House, they should be named and shamed individually.
In reporting Parliament, the media also needs to uphold of the Code Ethics and Integrity in order to promote objectivity and public confidence in their reports.
Parliament, through professional engagement and relations with the media, can play the role of public watchdog and help expose the many governance and social ills that afflict Kenyans. MPs should identify problems that affect Kenyans and push the Executive through private members bills to enact laws required for the good of the country.
As part of improving its relations with the media, MPs should advocate for policies that enhance media operations and the practise of journalism in Kenya.
For example, Parliament should promote a policy that aims at reviewing the current framework of operations of the national broadcaster, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, to ensure it is more stable and operationally sound.
—The writer is the Deputy CEO, Media Council of Kenya