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Senator Mike Sonko’s conduct shines spotlight on poor quality of live debates

By Victor Bwire | Published Sun, March 26th 2017 at 12:24, Updated March 26th 2017 at 12:29 GMT +3
Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko

Interesting events characterise live current affairs talk shows in radio and television stations. Serious challenges await the media this election year if what happened on March 19, 2017 on Radio Maisha and Citizen TV is anything to go by.

Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria walked out of a live radio discussion while Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko became rowdy while being interviewed at prime time on Citizen TV.

While Kuria stormed out when asked a question he deemed irritating for whatever reason (and it’s not the first time he walked out of a live show), Sonko was disorderly and could not engage in a sober discussion. In addition to his wanting behaviour, he insulted people who were not participating in the interview and harassed the host, Mr Hussein Mohammed.

These isolated incidents raise the red flag on how live studio interviews are likely to be problematic this electioneering period. The media must guard against being used as an avenue for politicians to trade barbs. The media must resist being drawn into other people’s wars. For the record, journalists are not contestants but recorders of events. Actually, the programme code for free to air broadcasters has advised against instantaneous live broadcasting, insisting broadcasts be delayed by at least seven seconds before going on air to guard against such cases. Journalists and by extension, media houses, must be strict on not only choosing who to invite for live shows, but more on the safety of their staff. Effort should also be made to ensure there is adequate preparation between the host and the interviewee before the airing of programmes.

The progamme host has a responsibility to obtain sufficient briefing and background information on the subject. We must maintain sanity and good conduct. Otherwise, the language and behavior of some guests is regrettable. While the media should not hold brief for those without manners and decorum, sources who lack manners should not be allowed into studios in the first place.

The aim of an interview or discussion programme is to have the interviewee/guest provide facts, reasons or opinions on a particular topic, which is expected to help the listener to make conclusions on the validity of what he or she is saying. There have been cases where in addition to being drunk and poorly prepared for live shows, some guests have turned up in studios while armed. Some cases have been reported where guests physically fought in the studio during programmes.

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When an interview degenerates into a shouting match, we lose big time especially when the programme could have enabled citizens to make informed decision on the leaders they want. The role of the media in an election is to ensure the citizen is empowered to make an informed choice.

The media, therefore, have a duty to provide coverage that gives the citizen sufficient, accurate and reliable information on electoral matters. The media have a duty to debunk myths, stereotypes and counter fake news.

Media houses should demonstrate that the main parties or candidates vying for office are given equal opportunities to be heard or questioned and, that minor parties or candidates are not treated unfairly. Fair and balanced coverage also means that individual stories, and their pattern over a period of time, reflect the reality as well as the views of different parties or candidates.

In an election year, the media is duty-bound to foster stability by reducing conflict and polarisation. The Fourth Estate should promote the rule of law and the proper functioning of institutions.

—The writer works at the Media Council of Kenya as the Programmes Manager and a Journalists Safety Trainer. [email protected]