During a media briefing on Wednesday 10 August, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati noted the slow pace in which Kenyan media is taking to tally provisional presidential results.
Speaking from the Bomas of Kenya, IEBC's National tallying centre, Chebukati wondered why the mainstream media was sluggish yet 97 percent of Forms 34A had been loaded on the IEBC portal.
"You should be at 97 per cent. Maybe you were not prepared," Chebukati quipped while cautioning Kenyans against relying on social media updates being circulated as official results.
This comment is rather ironical coming from Chebukati. A day before election day, IEBC suspended elections for four seats after they mixed up ballot papers during printing. Consequently, voters in Kakamega and Mombasa counties did not vote for their governor, while voters in Kacheliba and Pokot South constituencies could not vote for their MPs because the ballot papers had the wrong photos of the Members of National Assembly.
The chairman said although the IEBC will not name the winner today, it will use the results posted on its portal to say who won the presidential election.
"Results in the public portal are the same that the commission will use to declare the results. We have given agents, media and certain stakeholders access to the same... declaration of Presidential results will not happen today," he said.
For this election, media houses have set up internal tallying centres to track how Kenyans voted for the four presidential candidates. The media has an arduous task to deliver accurate news content round the clock to a very hungry audience that is anxious to know who will be the fifth president of Kenya.
The process of tallying involves:
Access Form 34A - This involves going into the IEBC portal and manually downloading Form 34A from 46,299 polling stations across the country. This is done one by one. For someone to access a form say from a polling station like New Kihumbuini primary school in Nairobi City county, you have to click five tabs for you to view the form and download it.
Verification - this process involves cross-checking the information to ensure it is correct. Some of the forms uploaded are blurred or writing is not clear. This step can involve more than one person.
Convert photo to alpha numeric data - The form is uploaded as a photo and data entry people have to convert that data into text and numbers in a way it can be used by journalists for web, print, tv or radio to update audiences. This process depends on the infrastructure a media house has set up.
Convert and package data intovisuals like maps, charts and graphs for storytelling.
Chebukati should appreciate that this process takes time and media houses have had to invest resources to support the tallying process. Today, Chebukati admitted that Form 34A from Rukwaro Market polling station, Rongo constituency, Migori County was erroneously transmitted. The Returning Officer transimitted Form 34B instead of Form 34A. The same error happened at Uriri polling station. This underscores the importance of verification of the forms.
How fast or slow a media house broadcasts the Presidential results depends on the factors below:
Number of data entry clerks. The more the hands, the faster the tallying.
Technology being used - some media houses have automated systems for data entry and tabulation. This data then has to be converted for use on TV or web. That is a technical aspect that depends on workflow and how broadcast systems are configured.
Tallying is not uniform - this depends on the approach being used. The downloading of forms depends on the approach the media house wants. Some may opt to focus on strongholds of individual candidates, others will randomly download the forms.
Data processing speeds - some systems are slow, others are fast. This determines the speed at which the data teams verify the results.
Trust and accuracy is important for media
In journalism, there is no award for being the first to broadcast presidential results especially for an important exercise like tallying Presidential votes. Getting it right is the most important thing. On this one, the credibility and accuracy of the media is on the spot. If the media gets it wrong, trust levels will go down. It is always better to get it right the first time.
Ahead of the August 9 poll, media published several opinion polls that sparked emotive reactions from the political class. Whether the pollsters will be vindicated by the final tallies or not, is a matter of time
Creativity in presenting numbers
Numbers mean nothing if there is no context. This is why media has gone to great lengths to present this numerical content in creative ways that is easy to understand. Apart from watching TV or listening to the radio, audiences are online to consume and look for content to share. Any media that is not packaging the results for consumption on various media platforms is missing an opportunity to reach multi-screen audiences.
To work on the creative content that is published on these multiple platforms needs keenness and accuracy, which also takes time.
Fake news and misinformation circulating
This election is a great test of the gatekeeping strengths of media houses. Kenyan media is constantly reminding audiences that we are getting data from the IEBC. We are also reporting preliminary results as per the IEBC guidelines.
Politicians have deployed bloggers who are selling narratives that suit their side as tallying constinues. As a rule of thumb, the media must adhere to the basics of journalism – verification. This is the time trust plays a key role for a news brand. Any inaccurate information will have an impact on the reputation of a media house. As Kenyans anxiously wait for the final tally, all eyes and ears remain on which media will win that TRUST.