Despite the exponential growth of social media, the mainstream media still has immense power to inform or misinform.
A report by the Communications Authority of Kenya and conducted by Kenya Audience Research Foundation revealed that between October and December 2019, 57 per cent of Kenyans consumed their information through radio; 44 per cent through TV; 23 per cent through online platforms and 8 per cent through newspapers.
While there is an audience overlap across these different platforms, it is clear that radio and TV are still the major providers of information for most Kenyans. Newspapers, too, continue to play a critical role, even if an increasing number of people is consuming them online. According to Alexa ranking, standardmedia.co.ke is the most visited website in Kenya, second only to Google and YouTube.
It is, therefore, clear that radio, TV and newspapers are the main channels of the information that flows to Kenyans. Unfortunately, politics constitutes the lion’s share of this information. It seems that the media is obsessed by politics, constantly covering politicians.
Imagine if media agreed to spend an entire week without covering politics and instead focused on critical issues of development like food security, environment, agriculture, job creation, business growth and entrepreneurship, culture, health, innovation, women empowerment and sports. If these issues dominated headlines and airplay for a week, Kenyans would be empowered with information that affects their lives directly.
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They would learn how in March this year, the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research Analysis revealed that food insecurity affects 14.5 million Kenyans every year. As a result, one in three Kenyan children below the age of five experienced stunted growth between 2014 and 2018.
It is, therefore, clear that Kenya’s food crisis is resulting in dire consequences. As such, every time media gives more prominence to politics, Kenyans remain largely uninformed about pressing issues like the dire food insecurity in their country.
During that week of zero politics coverage, Kenyans would also learn why key rivers like Rupingazi and Gura in Central Kenya are drying up and how that will affect thousands of people upstream and downstream. They would learn how the health of water towers like the Aberdares and Mau Forest determine whether there will be water in your taps.
During that week, Kenyans would finally take a long, hard look at data from the Kenya Economic Survey 2019. This data would tell them that every year, Mwea produces 90,000 tonnes of rice, which is 80 per cent of all the rice produced in Kenya. Yet we consume 400,000 tonnes of rice every year. Armed with such information, Kenyans would demand to know from their policy makers why it is that almost 60 years after independence, we still have to import three quarters of our rice!
Such is the power of media. By shifting focus from politics to pressing economic, agricultural, social and environmental issues it will strip away ignorance from the masses and drastically raise the quality of politics, because people will demand answers from politicians, not just insults and politicking.
Media should not mostly focus on telling us what politicians say about other politicians and how they are planning to win the next elections. If a politician visited Kisii or Kakamega, remind us that although Kakamega has the second highest number of poor people in Kenya, that politician did not say a single word about that poverty and how his party is tackling that issue head-on.
That will be more helpful to the 580,834 Kakamega residents, who are living below the poverty line. They do not care about that politician’s game plan as they cannot eat it.
In the same vein, do not just tell us about the crowds that showed up or did not show up at a politician’s rally in Kisii and how that politician is making inroads or losing ground in the county.
Focus more on the fact that despite Kisii being a leading producer of bananas, the county’s banana value chain continues to operate below par. What has that politician’s party done about that? The answer to this question is more important to the people of Kisii County than the politician’s crowd size.
Malcolm X, a civil rights movement leader, once said ‘the media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.’ Kenyan media should not waste this power on constant coverage of politics at the expense of other key issues like jobs, food and health.
Think green, act green!