Kenya Election 2022: Radio and TV Will Play a Key Role

The Guidelines for Election Coverage 2022 reflect the tenets of the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism and the requirements of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

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A section of the Kenyan journalists being trained by the IEBC on elections coverage

There have been discussions on the role of Kenya’s media in the upcoming general elections set for August 9, 2022.

At the core of the issues raised is the perception that some media houses have been partisan and some journalists and reporters have been profiled.

Moreover, there is no doubt that the emergence of online media and tools such as Twitter and Facebook have watered down the traditional monopoly that the mainstream media used to enjoy in owning and disseminating information. It is no longer uncommon to see social media generating content for the mainstream media.

Before you see the “breaking news” on TV or hear it on the radio, it has already spread on social media like bush fire. 

As the general elections approach, all eyes are on Kenya’s mainstream media. The latest taste of the waters for the mainstream media came while streaming the Deputy Presidential debates, where millions of Kenyans tuned in to watch the proceedings. 

It was replicated during the Presidential Debate. Some candidates who did not appear triggered national discourse on the merits, demerits, and speculation.

As much as there is a feeling that the mainstream media has been losing “touch” with reality, the fact remains that it still has a significant role and holds an immense effect as far as the upcoming general election is concerned. The eyeballs glued to the screens throughout the campaign season, the actual elections and the aftermath cannot be gainsaid.

Similarly, radio is still king, with over 90 per cent of Kenyans actively listening to the radio as the primary source of news and entertainment.

The question around the place of the mainstream media in the election equation is four-fold: are they impartial? Will the media be shut down during the elections? What would the media look like after the elections? What will happen to the media perceived as partisan in the polls if the sides they don’t support win the elections?

The Constitution of Kenya upholds media freedom under Article 34. The only limitation or regulation of this freedom is expressed in Article 33 (2).

At the same time, broadcasters are obliged to ensure they project public interest at all times, as provided for in the Programming Code for broadcasting services in Kenya, prescribed by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA). 

The Kenya Information and Communications (Broadcasting) Regulations, 2009 provide guidelines for the “polling period”, which covers the period when national general elections are held, election campaigns, and the post-election and referendum periods.

The Kenyan Programming Code for free-to-air radio and television services in Kenya, which came into effect on July 1 2016, also emphasizes these tenets.

What is the role of the mainstream media in this election?

The cardinal principles of journalism remain the same over time. The Kenyan media is no exception. 

The media has a role in maintaining objectivity, fairness, and truthfulness in election coverage.

The Guidelines for Election Coverage 2022 reflect the tenets of the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism and the requirements of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

According to the guidelines, at the heart of every election are three interlocking sets of rights:

 i) The right of the voter to make informed choices. 

ii) The right of the candidates to put their ideas across. 

iii) The right of the media to report freely and express an opinion on matters of public interest

There is a need for the media to remain “alive” during this period. They should be the eyes of Kenyans and cover events from across the country without bias or manipulation.

The media cannot be a platform for purveying disinformation, spreading hate speech, or inciting violence by political actors.

As the ICT industry regulator, the CA is responsible for promoting and facilitating the development of the broadcasting industry in Kenya in line with the Constitutional guarantees of freedom and independence of the media.

The Programming Code

The Authority is required by the Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998 and the Broadcasting Regulations to prescribe a Programming Code setting the standards for the time and manner of programmes broadcast by licensed broadcasters and ensure compliance with the said provisions.

It is the responsibility of broadcasters to ensure that their programmes and services comply fully with this code. 

Broadcasters are also required to satisfy the Authority that they have adequate procedures to fulfil this requirement.

This code requires that:

  1. Broadcasting in Kenya should reflect the national values, aspirations, hopes, and dreams of Kenyans;
  2. Broadcasting is regarded as a powerful medium for influencing culture, beliefs, and values as well as a tool for economic growth and development;
  3. Broadcasting has an immediate and lasting impact on the public and therefore demands that its practitioners display a high sense of responsibility, morality, fairness, and honesty at all times;
  4. Broadcasting services are expected to uphold the values and customs of civilized society, maintain respect for the rights and sensitivities of all people, preserve the honour and sanctity of families and homes, protect the sacredness of individual dignity, and promote national unity and cohesion.

As we inch closer to the elections, there is no doubt that the media continue to form and shape voters’ perceptions in more ways than one.

They continue to dissect the main issues in the current campaign, the manifestos of the contending parties and formations, highlighting the emerging issues in the campaigns and, in doing so, giving the citizens the information they require to make informed choices on August 9.

As the campaign season hits its fever pitch, it is anticipated that the media will stand there to stand counted as having played their rightful role in enhancing Kenya’s democratic space and ensuring a credible election.

How the country moves past the election will depend significantly on how the media shapes the narrative.

With past election experiences, there have certainly been lessons learnt about the power of the media in enhancing national cohesion or tearing it apart. How they perform this role during and post-August nine remains to be seen.


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