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.
At a recent media summit that brought together Katiba Institute, the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), and media practitioners in Nairobi, it emerged that media houses have not put adequate measures to protect their reporters as they go about elections coverage. Reporting on elections is considered one of the most challenging journalistic tasks in East Africa.
East Site compiled six tips that journalists could use while covering elections.
1.Training on electoral laws and Information access
Ahead of Kenya’s General Elections, the MCK noted that reporters and editors needed to be well-versed with elections timelines, processes, and laws.
This would enable them to report accurately and put the elections stakeholders to account. MCK said the council has already rolled out training workshops for political reporters and editors throughout the country to prepare them for the work ahead.
While emphasising the need for journalists’ access to information as elections beckon, Dinar Ondari, the Press Freedom, Safety and Advocacy manager at MCK, said they are concerned with reports of journalists being denied the right to access information.
“The public or the media should not be barred from parliamentary committees. Journalists’ work is to facilitate the free-flow of information. Media cannot set the agenda on the issues they do not know about. They have to be trained and empowered.”
Moreover, journalists need to understand and see the bigger picture.
“Election is a process, not an event; there are rules to be followed,” Florence Kajuju, the Chairperson of Commission on Administrative Justice in Kenya, noted.
She said the electoral process does not begin and end with the elections, adding that voter education is crucial and the media has a role to play in this.
“What does the electoral law say? Journalists deserve to know these laws and question the integrity of the political candidates.”
Francis Gachuri, a veteran political reporter, argued there is a need for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to make public all relevant information regarding the electoral process.
Gachuri regretted that some departmental committees barred journalists from covering their sessions on the pretext that the subject under discussion bordered on “national security” while, in reality, national interest was paramount hence the need to grant journalists access.
“The practicality is different; National Security is usually used as an excuse,” Gachuri said.
2. Stay safe, practice caution
Media houses and the state must ensure that all journalists covering elections feel safe in their environment. Reporters should be able to execute their mandate without fearing having to watch over their shoulders.
The forum encouraged media houses to work closely with security agencies to ensure they give the names of the crew covering elections, particularly in the so-called hot spots, to cushion them from unforeseen attacks.
In the past, journalists have been attacked while covering elections. Some have had their equipment destroyed or confiscated by a mob or even rogue security officers.
Oloo Janak, the Chairman of the Kenya Correspondents Association, says that violations against journalists during the election cycle are two-pronged.
“Violations can take place at two levels – at individual level of the journalists, ranging from assaults, dismissal and surveillance. The other level is the media organisation, which are targeted by the state machinery. They can include bans,” he said, drawing the example of Tanzania, where some media houses had their licences withdrawn.
Mary Daraja, a Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) producer, laments that most media houses have not taken the safety of journalists seriously.
“We (the media) have failed to prepare adequately,” Mary said, recalling that some media houses send journalists to the field without training in handling an emergency. “We have had cases where journalists have been beaten up by police, the same people who should be protecting them.”
3. Wear the correct protective gear
Since election disputes could turn ugly, journalists must have access and wear the proper protective gear. This includes, among others, a bulletproof vest and helmet with a visible MEDIA or PRESS print written on them.
Tom Jalio, a features editor at Radio Africa Group said such gear could go a long way in minimising the risks to journalists.
It is also essential to practice caution and not put oneself in harm’s way.
4. Collaboration with security agencies
Journalists must maintain their independence at all times, but the forum suggested working closely with security agencies while reporting on elections.
Dominic Kisavi, a police commissioner and head of the Election Security Secretariat, urged the media to work with the police while covering events that might trigger violence to ensure their safety.
“You’re safe on the police side. The Kenyan law requires everybody to get a license to acquire body armour,” he said, stressing the need for journalists to get a permit before purchasing body armour for use in such volatile circumstances.
“We’re training our officers and one of the things is to ensure every person is safe during elections and that includes the media. If a police officer acts in contravention of the law, we investigate and hold him to account even those involving (attack on) journalists,” he said.
5. Fairness and objective reporting
Elections are a highly emotionally-charged event, even for journalists. But according to Janak, the basics of journalism must always guide the reporter.
There are certain things the media has ignored in the past. For example, Kenyan media ‘turned a blind eye’ when the government deployed an ‘unnecessarily high number of security officers’ to some areas of the county, deemed as opposition bedrock, ahead of the disputed 2017 elections.
“We in the media have never been honest…there are gaps on how media ignore certain things and how they cover elections. We need a responsive leadership, on the need to tell Kenyans the truth, the type of leadership (newsroom) that does not retrieve to ethnic cocoons,” he said.
The East African media has previously been flagged for turning a blind eye to electoral injustices and killings of unarmed protesters in Kenya. Likewise, the media has been criticised in Tanzania and Uganda for going to bed with the state and not pointing out its excesses.
6. Briefing and debriefing
Briefing and debriefing are some cardinal rules in journalism and the newsroom. Reporters and camera persons ought to be briefed and debriefed by heads of departments or, in some cases, line editors and leaders of camera units before proceeding with assignments.
But during the workshop, it emerged that some media houses had thrown caution to the wind by sending out crew who were ill-prepared and without any vital briefs to help them navigate the tricky election environment.
These are only six tips the EAST Site put together for journalists covering elections. Do you have some more tips, join the discussion on social media handles (@AKUMediaFutures, www.facebook.com/AKUMediaFutures)
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.
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 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.
No one sits down to write proposals only to seek money. There’s an idea, a vision, an important goal, the need for impact, and last but not least, the need for change.
According to the World Health Organisation there are between 60-80million people with disabilities in Africa and over 1 billion in the world, many of whom live under deplorable conditions owing to societal myths.
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 they?
Tanzania has a massive digital gender gap. As a result, it is unlikely to hear stories about successful Tanzanian women, either in leadership or the media.
Ultimately, HCD is a toolbox containing multiple tools you can pick out, show your team how to use them, and ensure it becomes best practice
Mohammed Hammie is not your typical reporter. In 2019, the young Tanzanian swapped from being a regular journalist to media for community empowerment and has since specialised in telling stories about the human right to access clean drinking water, particularly in rural areas.
According to the MCK Chief Executive Officer, David Omwoyo, journalists eyeing political posts should be subjected to the same rules that apply to civil servants. That is to leave office six months to elections. But that’s not the only requirement.
The theses dwelt on thematic areas in Kenya’s media landscape, from solutions journalism, content analysis of the coverage of Covid-19 as well as data smog in the newsrooms, which the findings show is having a devastating effect on print journalists.
The study calls for solutions to structural, political, and societal conditions that jeopardize the future of media as a viable business and a source of high-quality journalism in East Africa
There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has altered our lives in unimaginable ways. Economies are bleeding. It has disrupted learning; millions have lost their jobs, while many others contend with reduced salaries. Yet, amidst the chaos and disruption, journalists – also hugely affected – have remained steadfast to their cause to tell stories of the pandemic. Some of them narrated their experiences to EAST site’s writer Isaac Swila.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the technological shifts have caused severe consequences to today’s press. However, Prof George Nyabuga says the writing has long been on the wall, yet many chose to bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.
Ever since 170 journalists from Kenya’s Standard Group were made redundant in 2020, media experts argue that convergence of business processes in the media industry is an inevitable and necessary step. The term convergence has dominated media houses for years. But what does it mean and why is it crucial for the future of journalism in the region?
The digital and social media experience has disrupted the media industry in unprecedented ways. Gone are the days when media houses could solely rely on revenues generated from the sale of content, for example, newspapers. Kenya’s Standard Media Group understood the need to adapt to the ‘new digital newsroom’ and embarked on a three-year- restructuring programme, but the change is not without challenges as Peter Oduor found out