Kenyan voters will go to the polls on August 7, 2022, to elect new leaders. As expected, the media is burning the midnight oil, trying to develop strategies to cover the polls. But how prepared are the journalists for the rigorous task that lies ahead? East site writer Isaac Swila spoke to some young and veteran reporters to determine their readiness.
Emmanuel Too: A TV political news reporter for KTN News and formerly a reporter at Switch TV, this will be Too’s first time covering elections with one of the country’s most prominent news outlets. During the 2017 elections, he was an intern at Kenyatta University TV. “I may not have covered a national election, but I have covered several by-elections (Msambweni, Juja and Kiambaa by-elections, among others). So I know that I am ready for the big one,” Too said excitedly.
“My colleagues and I understand that this is a huge responsibility, and we intend to report factually and objectively. We don’t want to incite people to violence through our work.”
Concerns about election coverage
Apart from Too’s concerns about a repeat of the 2007/ 2008 post-election violence that rocked Kenya, he feels that the media fraternity has not paid enough attention to how politicians use underhand tricks that undermine democracy. Some aspirants go as far as using money being to buy votes. According to Too, such aspects of the campaigns are underreported. What about specific training for election reporting? Emmanuel says he hasn’t been part of any training and that if this has happened, he wasn’t part of it.
However, he said he would gladly participate if such training came up since it might prove helpful in the coming months.
Daniel Ogetta: As a political reporter for the Daily Nation newspaper, Ogetta will also be facing his first national election reporting assignment in August 2022.
He has been reporting on politics for the Sunday and Saturday Nation publications. “As an individual, I am just getting ready. It is going to be my first time doing this for a national platform and a national audience,” Ogetta told the EAST site in an interview.
He said he was preparing for the election day by covering local political rallies and reading New York Times and Washington Post stories on how they’ve covered elections. “I have subscribed to these platforms to see how they do it to sharpen my political and human interest writing skills,” Ogetta said, adding that he was confident that the media industry is ready.
“Nation Media Group and the industry at large have been covering elections for years. I think they’ve gotten better at it,” he said. To get better at his job as political activity heats up in the country, Ogetta has applied for several political writing/reporting training boot camps. He understands the magnitude of the task at hand; “My greatest fear so far is a situation where my writing misinforms the public or fuels a post-election clash,” Ogetta said.
“I work twice as hard to ensure objectivity, factual and honest reporting when I am in the field. The number of times I listen to my recordings, after a political event, to get the quote and context right is my testimony to this.”
Rehema Chibole Osanya: Having been in the media industry for the past 13 years, Rehema Chibole Osanya is currently a political reporter and editor at Vihiga FM, a regional radio station. According to her, the 2022 General Elections is the greatest integrity test of Kenya’s media industry.
Moreover, Rehema is worried about retaining the trust and confidence of her listeners as Kenya heads into 2022. To help her reporters overcome this, she insists on verifying and authenticating stories before broadcasting. She also has strict and unwavering adherence to media law and ethics and demands that her station gives equal opportunity (in terms of media engagement) to all interested politicians and political entities to ensure fairness.
The station has organised a unique program (Jongoo la Vihiga FM) that will provide a platform for all political aspirants to freely express their ideas and sell their agenda to the public. “Not all of us are well prepared. Some journalists align themselves with certain political parties, creating room for bias and prejudice.” Rehema thinks it is unfortunate that Kenya’s media industry receives such criticism.
Defender of journalists
As the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) regional representative, Rehema swings between being a journalist and a defender of journalists.
Recently, a photojournalist from Nation Media Group was arrested and detained before being released during a political rally organised by Deputy President William Ruto.
“The incident doesn’t surprise me at all. We have had incidents where journalists have suffered seriously at the hands of politicians. Still, no action has been taken against the perpetrators other than the Media Council of Kenya sending a warning message,” Rehema said, adding that there is a need to create stronger laws that ensure the safety of journalists at all times.
She said the union works with media houses to ensure that journalists (political reporters) are safe while dispensing their duties. Also, those media houses are encouraged to offer sufficient training on sensitive or political reporting.
She added that plans are underway for media houses to facilitate and provide their journalists with the required professional documentation to ease their movement. Lastly, the union has encouraged media houses to initiate an emergency response unit that can promptly respond to journalists’ emergency issues.
Herman Kamariki: A news anchor at Hot96 FM, one of the stations belonging to Royal Media Services (RMS), Kamariki insists that fact-checking is critical. Better late, but factual is one of the RMS journalism principles. Accordingly, the company has initiated training to boost RMS journalists on the 2022 election reporting assignment.
They have been trained on how to prevent misinformation, spot fake news, and verify the authenticity of pictures, among other things.
Verify before publishing
“Better late but factual; this is our mantra. Before we publish, we have to confirm the facts and interrogate the source of a story. We have the tools for this,” Kamarikii told the EAST site. He said Royal Media Services brands are used by people, including journalists, to confirm if a certain news item is authentic or not.
“This is how high our standards are, and this is what we strive for each day.” For a man who has spent the last two years doing general news reporting, he believes journalists have a role to play in ensuring that the utterances of political leaders do not cause tension and violence.
A first-time sub-editor at a local mainstream newspaper who spoke anonymously says he is worried about media owners. “As a media practitioner, my primary responsibility still remains the need to inform and educate my audience – accurately and fairly as much as I can. And as sub-editor who deals with reporters – a majority of whom report on politics – my central role will be to ensure these fundamental tenets of journalism are adhered to as we head towards the elections.”
He believes training is necessary; “There are already plans to train us on how best to handle election reporting. I can’t emphasise enough the urgency of retraining – if we are to call it that – because journalism, like most other communication fields, is undergoing major dramatic changes occasioned by digital technology, and this drastically affects election reporting.”
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