East Africa’s media grapples with a myriad of challenges whenever general elections approach. Not only do editors struggle with balancing the competing political interests, at times at the altar of professionalism, but individual journalists pay dearly, many suffering attacks in the course of their duties.
As the clock ticks towards Kenya’s General Elections set for August 9, 2022, so does the media continue to feel the heat with politically orchestrated attacks targeting individual journalists and media houses becoming more pronounced.
However, this is not isolated to Kenya but is a common denominator across East Africa’s three states. A closer look at Uganda and Tanzania reveals that journalists constantly have to watch over their backs during elections, with some of them suffering online and physical attacks.
In Kenya, for instance, the situation has been alarming, forcing the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) to release a statement after two lawmakers attacked Citizen TV, Kenya’s leading television network, over its editorial coverage.
“The Media Council is concerned about the increasing incidence of profiling of and threats to individual journalists and media outlets by politicians related to 2022 General Elections campaign,” the council said. It also noted that such threats are likely to incite the public and political supporters against the media and may thus expose journalists and media practitioners to violations of their rights as they go about their rightful duties.
“Attacks against and intimidation of media contravenes Article 34 and 35 of the Constitution on the Freedom of Media Access to Information,” MCK CEO David Omwoyo said.
He singled out the recent verbal attack against Citizen TV by Kapseret Member of Parliament Oscar Sudi, whose social media post was accused of targeting the media house. In addition, the remarks by his South Mugirango counterpart Silvanus Osoro also castigated the media for alleged bias in reporting.
MCK wants aggrieved Kenyans to seek redress through the council’s complaints commission.
Apart from threats to media houses, attacks on individual journalists perceived to be leaning towards a specific political camp are common in Kenya.
For example, in October 2017, at the height of general election campaigns, Citizen TV’s political editor Francis Gachuri was attacked by goons when he went to cover the National Super Alliance (NASA) press briefing at Wiper Party headquarters. The incident forced the NASA leader, who was then the coalition’s presidential candidate Raila Odinga, to issue a public apology.
Fast-forward to March 2022, reporters covering a press briefing at the Orange Democratic Movement Party headquarters were roughed up by the party’s security men, forcing the party to issue an apology.
The incident happened during a meeting convened by Azimio La Umoja coalition presidential aspirant Raila Odinga at Chungwa House. Security men mishandled Standard journalist Moses Nyamori. It is believed the attack had to do with a story that did not sit well with the party’s top guns. Star political writer journalist Luke Awich had his phone’s screen smashed in that same scuffle.
Uganda: Journalists targetted on and offline
In Uganda, the picture is not rosy. Last year, as President Yoweri Museveni, 77, and the 40-year-old opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi a.k.a Bobi Wine, tussled for Uganda’s top seat, the media was caught in the crosshairs.
State-sponsored actors targeted several journalists, while other reporters became victims of online attacks.
Culton Scovia Nakamwa, a BBS TV news reporter, knows the perils too well. She was tasked with political reporting as Uganda went into general elections last year. President Yoweri Museveni’s rule came under fierce challenge from opposition chief Kyagulanyi.
“There were both online and physical attacks; these threats were directed at me,” Cultom said, adding that he encountered sources and even politicians, some operating within the state organs.
“Some scare you to go slow (on a political story you’re pursuing). If you highlight stories of what the government hasn’t done you are labelled to be campaigning against a particular candidate.”
She recalls that the online attacks included body-shaming the journalists and even stereotyping.
“I got calls, some of them coming from unregistered numbers. This meant we had to cover our backs and be very cognisant of whom you meet.”
Cultom had to self-censor to mitigate the threats, a trait she says most of her colleagues also employed.
Journalists face threats in Tanzania
Tanzanian journalist Ephraim Bahemu told the EAST Site that reporters who cover political stories face constant threats.
“The politically instigated attacks are common among journalists and media houses, many at times it is built on false claims against journalists that they are biased against a particular candidate, they do this by profiling the targeted victims,” the Dar es Salaam based journalist lamented.
According to the Yearbook on Media Quality in Tanzania, published by the University of Dar es Salaam, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, it is clear that media houses and journalists grapple with how best to remain professional, balanced and accurate in their reporting during elections. They also struggle with dealing with the threat that comes with the heightened political heat, more so from state actors.
The report noted that media coverage in Tanzania was mainly skewed in favour of the late president John Pombe Magufuli. He had enjoyed massive space in print and broadcast media. The watchdog report stated that editors were wary about how to treat certain political stories due to the perceived consequences from the powers that be.
Self-censorship out of fear
“Additionally, Magufuli was covered significantly more on the front pages at 77 percent in the print media than in the inside pages at 65 percent. For Lissu(Tundu), there was no significant difference in coverage between the front and inside pages at 40 percent and 34 percent,” the report noted.
Some of the editors interviewed in the report admitted that fears of the unknown might have slanted their political coverage.
“The environment (political) was (rather)unfriendly, which forced us to write public relations stories, not quality reporting. There were big stories we could have done during the campaign period and on voting day, but we were afraid to take this bold step,” the report quoted one senior editor.
Another editor elaborated: “Freedom of expression was locked into a wardrobe. Media houses and editors published cosmetic stories as they wanted to save their media from being penalised.”
The editor went on to say that information was heavily controlled, and editors foresaw this trend before the elections and took a careful position not to broadcast or write every truth.
Self-censorship was at its peak during the elections. Media houses, for example, ended up dropping big stories because they could not get the right people to offer expert opinions, mainly when the story was critical of the government.
This lack of expert views weakened the stories and made them too risky to publish under the prevailing political climate. Eventually, self-censorship had extended to the journalists’ sources, which further eroded the quality and authoritativeness of their electoral reportage.”
Delicate balance needed
While condemning the attacks on media practitioners, the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) Chairman Oscar Obonyo told the EAST Site that politically instigated attacks on journalists are uncalled for. He demanded stronger punitive measures against the perpetrators.
“This (attack on journalists) is a major concern to us. We’re only doing our duty as journalists, and it’s not right that we’re subjected to this (harassment) every five years,” Obonyo said.
“There will be winners and losers in every election and journalists’ safety is key,” he added. The veteran journalist said KUJ has called on the security apparatus to ensure journalists are safe. “However, politicians also need to be engaged, they need to know that ours is just a noble duty, we’re just relaying the information.”
For the media to flourish, and the society to have free flow of accurate and verifiable information, journalists, the drivers in the passing of information are expected to be well grounded in laws and the legal aspect pertaining to the job, writes Alfred Ganzo.
Pitching provides numerous opportunities for your new or existing business ideas to be discovered and realized; and as Simon Mtabazi writes, some startups have become billion-dollar companies due to efffevie pitches
The success you achieve with your media startup business will heavily rely on your reputation as a trustworthy company, and as Nandi Mwiyombella writes, it will also open a new window for customers and potential investors.
That’s why I think today is such a great space for us to sit back and reflect on the questions that could help us shape the kind of journalism that we want to see in our local and global community.
The report specifically analysed eight major variables which include: newsroom structure and resources, media ownership and business models, organisational capacity, innovation culture, journalism culture, financial trends and results, content quality and COVID-19.
Mudi, in her role as Media Council of Kenya regional coordinator in charge of Mombasa(covering the entire coastal region), has found herself at the forefront in advocating and fighting to protect journalists’ rights, culminating in her being awarded for her peace efforts in the run-up and during the 2022 general elections in Kenya.
The 2022 general elections have been mentally draining for journalists, some of whom have had to stay on the campaign trail for over a year. Others have had to toy with the tough call of managing teams in the newsroom. East Site’s Isaac Swila and political writer Rawlings Otieno recount their experiences
What role did social media influencers play in the election? What voice did they give in political discourses during and around the election period? And to what extent did political candidates involve the influencers in marketing their manifestos to sway votes in their favour? East Site writer Steven Omondi unpacks the details
The media industry is experiencing enormous transformation as new digital trends emerge. With the vast opportunities that the digital space offers, media owners and content producers must deliberately adapt to how the audience consumes content.
With the increased Digital Technology at the palm of just anybody; there are a lot of information that distort whether deliberately or not highlighting the need of robust Fact0checking as Asha D. Abinallah explains
Is there a danger in media personalities having a vibrant social media presence? Assuming they have a massive media following, should they self-regulate and filter what they post? And when they engage with followers, should their opinions be taken as personal, or does it represent the journalist’s media house? East Site writer Isaac Swila explores
Media stakeholders are raising concerns over the lack of gender-inclusive reporting in East African newsrooms. They want concerted efforts to ensure more female journalists get equal opportunities like their male counterparts.
The partnership will also ensure that local content is curated and distributed to better optimize the product and meet the needs of Kenyan online users.
The news industry is constantly changing, and in the last few years, User Generated Content (UGC) has become a ubiquitous feature in news sourcing and packaging. However, media houses and journalists need to establish verification and credibility safeguards to avoid the misinformation trap.
Reporting on elections is, for many journalists, an opportunity to establish themselves as reliable political reporters. But the task comes with certain risks, particularly in the East African sub-region.
Stakeholders are now calling for concerted efforts, better planning and preparations for journalists before they are sent out on the field to cover Kenya’s high-stakes August 9 General Elections.
As Form One students settle into a new life in secondary school, this has also been a period of reflection. We have read tear-jerking and heart-warming stories of determined students who overcame many odds to get an education and how well-wishers came together in their aid.
There is renewed optimism in the Tanzanian media space following the ascension to power of President Samia Suluhu whose regime is keen to relax some of the laws deemed punitive to journalists and media houses
Uganda fell behind, whereas Kenya improved its press freedom ranking in the Reporters Without Borders 2022 Press Freedom Index. And after years of media freedom decline, Tanzania appears to be on the right track. But overall, media freedom activists say there is still work to be done.
A free and independent press is the cornerstone of any democracy and the foundation of economic success, mostly because through our free press, we’re able to hold the leadership to account.
To align with the changing times and stay relevant in the business, media houses are challenged to rethink their strategy and to adopt and understand obstacles and challenges they face towards rethinking and exploring alternative sources of revenue and on developing the digital strategy.
A team of young, Tanzanian tech-savvy communication professionals is dreaming big. It seeks to usher a new dawn in media business management in Tanzania by optimising employee output and offering consultancy to media businesses on how they can operate with a minimal budget but still attain their goals.
Bloggers and influencers have become an integral component of information sourcing across East Africa. The public uses blogs, privately run websites and social networks to crowdsource information from social networks, which they then publish and distribute. But it’s not all rosy for this group of content makers.
The chances of meeting a medical graduate practising journalism are usually very slim, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. But two Tanzanian physicians have broken away from that norm by inventing a start-up called Afyatoon. It uses visual art technology to tell compelling medical stories. They narrate to the EAST Site their experience and share their vision for the future.
Did you know that in 2021 Kenyans watched less TV and spent more time on social media? Or that some Kenyans rely on family, friends, or even social media icons and bloggers as a source of news and information? These are some of the conclusions highlighted in the 2021 State of the Media Survey conducted by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK).
The effects of the Covid pandemic continue to change the world in ways we had not imagined possible. The media is going through a painful transformation to keep up with changing production, distribution and consumption habits. In East Africa, Uganda’s Media Challenge Initiative (MCI) recently hosted a panel discussion on Media Viability comprising experienced journalists from Television, Radio, Print and Online/Digital media to address lessons learned from the pandemic. East Site’s Moses Mutente attended the panel and compiled this article.
In this commentary, Uganda-based journalist Caleb Okereke shares deep personal insights into why media schools in East Africa must rethink their curriculum. He stresses the need for trainers to begin teaching media ownership to better equip journalism students for the dynamic and cutthroat job market by taking us through his journey as a journalism student and media owner.
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.
Legacy media is currently caught between a rock and a hard place — the Covid pandemic and the rise and proliferation of social media has hit revenues hard. Some say this could signal the end of news as we used to know it. However, Ugandan decorated journalist Ernest Bazanye believes the industry will survive and thrive, but not without a fight.
Free media is often described as the fourth estate, the gatekeeper, the whistleblower, and many more. American singer Jim Morrison once said, “whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” No wonder governments worldwide try hard to control the press. But the media itself, particularly in Uganda, faces a severe identity crisis that requires urgent action, writes guest commentator Jimmy Spire Ssentongo.
World over, disinformation is a virus that continues to permeate newsrooms giving media managers and journalists a headache on how to deal with it. Dr. Myriam Redondo, a newsroom trainer in digital verification and associate professor in International Relations (PhD) explains how to tackle the virus in an engagement with EAST Site writer Isaac Swila.