A seasoned journalist made a troubling assessment of the Uhuru Kenyatta succession.
His crystal ball tells him that one of the political camps gunning for the country’s leadership is averse to press freedom and won’t take criticism positively.
In the event it gets to power on August 9, the journalist professes, media houses will ‘see fire’ and independent voices – online or from civil and advocacy groups – all wiped off!
I mused on these misgivings then got relief in the words of Indian journalist Ipsita Chakravarty that even in the face of barefaced threats on journalists, “we are not alone.” Chakravarty, who was my course mate at the University of Oxford, believes that since the Fourth Estate mostly enjoy public goodwill, citizens who love free speech will stick their neck out and defend it against rogue regimes out to muzzle free media. People’s power is supreme.
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Global freedom of expression protections have become binding but regimes are different much as they come and go.
Kenyans recall early days of Jubilee. Its leaders had a retrograde view of newspapers, with the ‘meat wrapping’ speak that couldn’t be more out of order.
Last week was stimulating for the Fourth Estate. A Media Council of Kenya study on content consumption showed Kenyans averagely spend three hours a day on social media, higher than the global average of two hours and 24 minutes. This may relate to a growing affinity for information, online showbiz and networking.
The Media Council survey had takeaways on trust and the need for traditional media to adapt or risk irrelevance in the brazen digital revolution.
Same week, Communications Authority boss Ezra Chiloba served media houses with what my high school teacher John Kosome would call a “compulsory request.”
He told journalists to uphold “democratic principles” through fair coverage to parties and aspirants. Chiloba wielded the big stick: “The authority shall take regulatory action to ensure compliance in accordance with the law.”
In a political year, the embellished attention on newsrooms is plausible, only that it fails to bring a balanced perspective into the actual or perceived role and effect of the media in polls.
In 2017, the Interior ministry shut down TV stations for over 10 days despite a court order.
It was an easy way that served short-term political interests but crowded our thinking of how best media power could be harnessed towards peace and non-violent messaging. Again, it was too little an effort to entrench electoral discipline when key actors who could address systemic State failures slept on the job.
Certainly, the media is a cog in the wheel. There are other cogs, including the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, the police, IEBC, religious groups, intelligence community, ministries and the political class. It’s befitting if every entity puts their act together ahead of the polls.
Reporters and editors must uphold ethics. The rulebook is clear. But individuals and institutions with roles in the August 9 vote, led by the multi-agency taskforce on election preparedness, must not slacken off then quicky blame it on others.
The writer is an editor at The Standard. Twitter: @markoloo