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Let's do everything to ensure professional coverage of polls

By David Omwoyo | September 27th 2021

Media Council of Kenya CEO David Omwoyo. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Elections correspond to periods of heightened media coverage and reporting. With each political party angling to lead the country, tensions and occasional political violence are often witnessed during these transitional times.

As Kenya prepares for elections, a lot is expected from the media to enable citizens make informed choices on issues and candidates seeking electoral positions.

Despite the expanding democratic space in Kenya, the media continues to face numerous challenges. These include safety concerns as, going by previous trends, the media comes under intense pressure during election time due to the volatile political environment.

Secondly, the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya requires journalists to seek and report only the truth. However, this is sometimes hampered by the bottlenecks involved in obtaining correct, timely and sufficient information for their stories. Such a challenge when allowed to thrive causes a credibility crisis as it affects the professionalism and quality of stories published by the media.

The third challenge is the lack of credible information for storytelling which has a negative impact on efforts by the media to push back on misinformation and fake news. By extension, this exposes journalists to unnecessary attacks and harassment from the public.

Fourth, sometimes the media become a threat unto themselves by failing to put in place strong in-house editorial policies to guarantee its own freedom or the failure to implement or comply by those media houses that have them. This often undermines the co-regulation model that the Kenyan media sector prides itself for.

There is therefore a huge need for collaboration among all players in addressing these challenges and to ensure a conducive working environment for journalists, not only during but also through the elections cycle.

The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) has been leading efforts to prepare the media industry for the national exercise.

Media stakeholders have converged in Kisumu to interact with the revised MCK Election Coverage Guidelines that have been under review by a 21-member team drawn from the industry. The guidelines, that were first developed in 2013 and reviewed in 2017, have been updated to reflect critical issues in the prevailing media environment and landscape.

The guidelines are a tool to support journalists to remain professional while providing voters with information on the elections and on technical specifics of the process.

The Constitution under Article 35 and the Access to Information Act 2016, not only protects citizens’ rights and media to access all information held by public bodies but also obligates the latter to disclose all information in their possession, with few exceptions. During elections, there are multiple players besides the contestants and all must be covered by the media.

The guidelines also address responsibilities of different players in the media industry as well as State actors engaged in different aspects of an election.

State and security agencies will be expected to facilitate journalists and media practitioners to cover elections without fear of intimidation or violence. There have been some cases of such intimidation and violence against the media, and the guidelines serve to seek a better working approach between the media and state agencies.

The adoption of the guidelines will pave way for training and capacity building of journalists and media practitioners across the country on their role, rights and obligations in election coverage.

The media should set a good standard by impeccably covering the 2022 elections.

Mr Omwoyo is the CEO of the Media Council of Kenya. [email protected] 

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