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Why politicians must not be allowed to set media agenda

ELIAS MOKUA
By Elias Mokua | July 22nd 2021
[Media]

No! The media can do better in covering these political campaigns.

For the last three years, the country has been on campaign mode as if there is no law in the country governing when campaigns should start and end.

Even with Covid-19 taking lives, heavily affecting families, mercilessly destroying businesses, the political appetite for crowds pushed the vote hunters beyond their humanity to keep on with their campaign activities. And the oxygen feeding the campaigns are the media.

Yes, political news sells. It attracts audiences, improves ratings and so on. But look, media work is a professional work. It has a body of knowledge that guides its operations. Media professionals have careers to grow. They have an obligation to build a better country, just as the political actors. They are the Fourth and Fifth Estate.

Further, they have a clear watchdog role to promote accountability and transparency in government. Media are the eyes and ears of the common mwananchi. They are the servants of the people. In studies that were done five years ago, mainstream media were perceived to be the most trusted or at least more trusted than political actors. I doubt this has changed.

It is therefore undermining the media profession if politicians keep setting the agenda for the media, particularly in regard to the 2022 General Election. Said differently, political actors should not run over the profession as if their lives are superior to those of everyone else in the news media. Agenda setting for the incoming regime is also the work of the civil society, including the media.

The presidential political campaigns we are seeing to date have no transformative agenda, no meaningful issues for public discussion, no sense of what to expect in the new regime. The main media focus on the campaigns is personality politics. At the moment, it is all Ruto this way, Raila that way, Uhuru that way, Mudavadi that way and so forth.

Nah, guys in the media fraternity. You too have a major role to play; if not for yourselves, for future generations. This country has chronic problems that should form the basis of the campaigns. Over and above, corruption stands out in every single report in this country as the number one problem.

How then do these campaigns run with secondary issues such as revamping the economy when the same economy is brought down by corruption? The media cannot be blind to the engine that propels the poor economic performance in our country. What guarantee is there that an “improved economy” will not be brought down by corruption?

Moreover, the lack of a national conscience should be on the lips of any serious presidential candidate. All persons have a conscience to choose between good and evil. When we see political actors on TV screens addressing crowds we can’t see because they have been edited away, we should be very worried.

Covid-19 protocols announced by the highest office in this country banned all political gatherings. Perhaps the Covid-19 curve is flattening. But, isn’t it fair that those bosses up there show that they respect both the law and the lives of others? How will they respect all other laws when in office if clearly simple rules meant to protect the lives of Kenyans cannot be respected? The media should not be tools for hire in this kind of political campaign activities.

Developing a national conscience means that leading political campaigners should not lie to the youth that they will create jobs when they are not addressing tribalism, nepotism and spending of billions in bribery to get tenders and plum jobs.

Media should push for a national conscience in the way we vote (decolonise our mindsets to think national), in the way the campaigns are conducted (peacefully) and relate as Kenyans with national values. Please do not wait for “Presidential Debates” to try and show you care about who should be our national CEO. That will be too late.

Dr Mokua is executive director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communications

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