Credible information remains the foundation of the ideas market » Capital News


The need for media and information literacy alongside a review of the media policy architecture in Kenya is more urgent than ever. While rallies, crowds and media presence might not previously have counted in determining the winners of electoral processes, the 2022 general election will be determined by the quality of information management around the ballot boxes. The media, especially digital platforms, are already a battleground for the country’s various political formations.

Disinformation and related propaganda and fact-checking spurred by digital platforms are at the center of political clashes. It is interesting how even people who until recently were avid proponents of media professionalism quickly learn and practice tactics only imagined in political communication. Political party propagandists specialize in killing audiences with information overload across multiple borders about posting fake news, manipulating photos and videos or even steel shots at rallies with very little respect ethics or the law.

Many politicians fear that much of the information they share at rallies will be verified or contextualized, or not used by professional media, if they do not claim to have interests in the media used relationships with the media or content broadcasters who have taken the digital space by storm. In fact, many are spitting out very unprofessional content or spamming the online space with what amounts to voluminous text messages or political advertisements before the official campaign period is even determined.

Unlike Uganda in the just-concluded general elections, which due to the COVID 19 outbreak used the scientific campaigning method – extensively using the media for campaigning, in Kenya even without that COVID 19 or the campaign period is officially announced, political and related wars are being fought through the media: both freedom and digital.

The decline in the importance of political parties and the urgency of strong regional or county political parties which seem to demobilize the major national parties – in a nutshell, politicians prefer to co-opt the media which invest in political parties. With decentralization and now confusion in national political parties, the guys are quickly forming very powerful political parties based on counties or regions, which they use to campaign for their share of contribution through emerging coalitions. The major parties will not afford to ignore these parties in this and future elections.

In addition to investing heavily in the media in terms of acquisitions, recruiting experienced journalists into their campaign teams, the political class spends huge sums through heavy advertisements and advertisements. To top it off, none of those seeking political office would rather say anything in the media about their coalition than consult their party members.

Politicians and party leaders are no longer organizers of grassroots support and campaigns, they are not educating voters about rights and expectations or encouraging them to vote, as they should be. The media are now the essential link between voters and parties. These have deprived voters of the opportunity to interact with and understand party policies and manifestos and to engage party leaders in a substantive way and even to compare the merits and demerits of various party manifestos. We simply have voting machines and not voters who do so from an informed point of view as one might expect.

As seen in the media, political ads are the vehicle that sells political candidates to voters in a way that blurs the line between politics and commerce today. Political advertisements have become a product sold to Kenyans and not what they represent.

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Indeed, what counts today in the search for political leadership in the country is the aspect of ethnicity, followed by considerations of wealth, then personality. As many prominent figures in the media monitoring report show, rather than the issues, it is the most important considerations that drive the electoral model.

I think the media should take advantage of this trust from politicians to do massive civic education and vet leaders for Kenyan voters. This huge responsibility and benefit should be galvanized for the benefit of the country. Let the media move away from focusing on personalities and focus on issues that matter to Kenyans. Let’s see more and more analysis of political party manifestos and policies in the media more than the dance performances we see now.

For those who work for politicians, make sure you are familiar with the basic ethical and legal provisions around publishing false news, defamation and the like, lest you find yourself in trouble. Also remember that the information shared should be credible, timely, engaging, factual and most importantly aware that Kenyans are equipped with fact-checking tools that will leave you naked if you give the wrong information. It will be very difficult to reclaim your brand and credibility outside of political circles.

For serious professional journalists and media professionals, do not fall prey to these cheaters and information propagandists – seek and report the truth using known and credible channels to obtain factual and relevant information, minimize the damage, act independently in your work and remain professional, transparent and accountable in your pursuit of public interest stories during the election period. Create a network of virtual fact checkers among yourselves in newsrooms to name and shame those who spread disinformation in real time.

The author is the Deputy Chief Executive of the Media Council of Kenya.


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