Media and Elections

6 Apr

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By Wanjala Wafula

As Kenyans prepare to go to the polls at a date that remains controversial, it is imperative to affirm that the mass media is essential to the conduct of the democratic elections. A free and fair election is not only about casting a vote in proper conditions, but also about having adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself so that voters can make an informed choice. A democratic election with no media freedom would be a contradiction in terms of the kingpins of the exercise. Independent, reliable news media helps to make possible free and fair elections. 

As recent trends depict, there is an attempt by political forces in the country to control the mass media ahead of the elections. Control over mass communications provides power. Concentration of control over TV and the press endangers free and fair elections. Governments may control the media in a variety of ways. Sometimes, they do it as crudely as has been characteristic of the numerous raids on media houses in Kenya. Sometimes, governments do so in a more subtle fashion, as is the case with the calculated crumbling of the Kenya Union of journalists. The forth coming elections will be ‘unfair’ if the existing political dispensation has too much control or influence over television, radio and the press. Parties and candidates wishing to make a challenge at the voting booths will be at a disadvantage if they are unable to tell their side of the story

As has been noted in the past, the government tends to disguise political propaganda as ‘public information’. For example, the government may choose a period shortly before an election to launch an information campaign to ‘explain’ a new salary scheme to civil servants or to encourage people to claim pension rights or to document some government achievement. Typically, the government will use public funds to pay for advertisements in newspapers or on commercial television stations. The media must be in a position to set the record straight.

The prime concern is the right of voters to full and accurate information. But this is not the only right involved. Parties and candidates are entitled to use the media to get their messages across to the electorate. The media themselves have a right to report freely and to scrutinize the whole election process. This scrutiny is itself an important additional safeguard against interference or corruption in the management of the election. There is a need to enhance safe and professional election reporting by making available full, fair and efficient information disclosure to and by journalists covering the elections in the country.

The most important role of the media is to objectively observe and report on the positions the candidates take in the election, as well as report fairly on what the voters view as the biggest issues. The role of the media is to provide information, educate and provide opportunities for citizens to question government and propose alternative policy ideas. The opposition must also be accorded a fair chance to sale their policies.

As it can be rightly observed, there are a lot of “shout shows,” during the election year In Kenya with people screaming at each other on television and propagating vulgarity in the print media.  The media must therefore be empowered to ask tough questions and to deal with the issues not the personalities.

Too often, the media too gets caught up in stories based on allegations, not facts. There is a need for the media to drive in the middle of the road and not pick sides thus be objective. The media has to go to communities and ask citizens what they think and want. In most cases the issues are fairly obvious and yet they are shrouded in the political bigotry characterized by trivialities such as tribalism and regionalism. The media has then to be encouraged to embrace the national agenda.

The writer is  Director/ Founder of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and champion the rights of minority groups  in Kenya. Visit www.coexistkenya.com or email Wafula@coexistkenya.com- facebook-wanjala Wafula- skype: coexist.initiative. Tel: +254712653322

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