For the second year running, a survey commissioned by the Media Council of Kenya shows that the trust level in Kenyan media has nosedived, raising fundamental questions on how media will play its watchdog role more so with landmark elections set for August 9. EAST Site writer Isaac Swila explores.
Media stakeholders in Kenya are scratching their heads after a 2021 survey by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) showed that the trust level in media has dropped by a massive 12 percent.
The findings released in January 2022 emanate from a survey conducted last December, which sampled some 3,589 respondents across Kenya’s 47 counties.
Equally perplexing is that the trust level is steadily declining compared to the previous research conducted by the same organisation.
For instance, in its 2019 findings, MCK’s survey concluded that 48 percent of Kenyans had a lot of trust in media. However, in 2020 the trust level dropped to 35 percent. Whereas the 2021 survey shows that 23 percent of Kenyans had a lot of trust in media, compared to the 2019 findings, alarm bells should ring as Kenyans’ trust in the press had lost 25 percent.
Broken down, 24 percent of the respondents said they had little or no trust in the media. In comparison, 53 percent of the respondents had some confidence in the press, showing general scepticism towards the media institution.
The overall trust rating on all media platforms averaged 63 percent. Television had the highest rating at 69 percent, followed by radio at 68 percent. Online news websites had the lowest rating at 56 percent.
Equally, 12 percent of the respondents expressed having concerns with media, while 88 percent did not. The concerns ranged from the lack of inclusivity in reporting, such as using the English language in TV content, which limits consumption, thereby excluding voices of people from rural areas during national discussions.
“Some are saying there is a lot of content with too much English, “Leo Mutisya, the project’s lead researcher, said during a recent discussion of the MCK survey at the Aga Khan University. “There are others who are worried about the foreign content in the media, so we really can’t say what it is, but it’s (trust level) dropping, and we are monitoring to see what we can make out of it,” Mutisya added.
In addition, the survey found out that, in some instances, the media encouraged vices such as gambling (which came in the form of advertisements).
Spotlight on the media ahead of August polls
The survey findings are seen as a slap on the face to the media which six years ago had been picked by several pollsters as the most trusted institution in Kenya. The dwindling trust in media would most likely trigger debates ahead of the August 9 general elections.
Through its watchdog role, the media is highly relied upon as a tool of information and puts the government in check by advancing accountability. “We don’t know what it is (causing the drop in trust level). We don’t know if it’s COVID. So we are trying to determine whether it’s COVID or the kind of content that the media is airing today,” Mutisya said. MCK conducted the survey during a political campaign period.
Is politics to blame?
“You know we have the Hustler and the Azimio pitting against each other, and Kenyans are getting confused,” Mutisya said of the two major competing political camps ahead of the August polls.
“There is also the issue of the media focusing too much on politics,” he noted, adding that consumers’ feedback points to “too much politics.”
For Joshua Obuya, one of the researchers, two things count. “In terms of comparing the populations and respondents in both the services. One equation I would ask is where they are similar in terms of the demographics and perceptions and the point in time. That is what I would want to know,” Obuya said.
A need to dig deeper
According to Mutisya, the study was not a market survey, but it aimed to collect opinions from across the country on the state of the media as required by law. He, however, agrees that there is a need to go beyond that and dig deeper. Mutisya also stressed a need for more partnerships on the part of MCK.
“A survey of this nature costs millions of money, and we’re always competing with lots of interest within the commission(MCK). So maybe, in the future, we need to identify the base of support in terms of finances and resources,” he noted.
Meanwhile, media scholar Dr Nancy Booker pointed out the need to do further research as “there are things that need exploration”.
But why were the findings not in-depth and failed to give specific reasons for the media trust deficit?
“I would take these figures with a pinch of salt because there are questions about their methods,” former Nation Media Group editorial director and a veteran media trainer and practitioner Joe Odindo said.
“It is a perception thing, and there are a lot of questions. Even if you talk about trust, who did you ask about trust, how do they interact with media, and what do they consume in media?” Odindo posed.
“However, anecdotally, the media has been greatly affected by the saturation of information since that space has been democratised, and many people don’t know what to believe and what not to believe,” he added.
According to Odindo, who also served as Standard Media Group editorial director, there is a greater need for media that can guarantee quality, credible and valuable information.
“Right now, we know from the American experience during the Trump era that people have actually turned more to CNN and New York Times to get credible information. Even consumption went higher, and subscriptions too. So now, people do not pay for things they don’t trust or dislike. The pattern changed.”
Odindo believes that the saturation of media and the democratisation of the media space has highlighted the real value of journalism, quality information, and content that audiences can trust.
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