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.
Covering the elections, albeit from the back row, hasn’t been an easy task and I’m sure my colleagues will share similar sentiments. To have successful elections coverage requires the entire newsroom to work in sync, from the producers, reporters, video editors, news readers, and even the editors.
Bearing in mind that I operated in the backroom (as a news editor) called for a lot of planning, together with my fellow editors. There were also a lot of strategy meetings, laying the ground rules for the reporters and news readers and above all ensuring fairness, accuracy and balance in as far as coverage is concerned. How best are we going to cover this? How do we face or deal with this situation? What must we do to avoid biases or being deemed as such? All these are weighty questions and genuine concerns that every journalist and media house grappled with.
Then there is the logistical nightmare. How, for instance, do we ensure we have a presence in all the 290 constituency tallying centres? This can be overwhelming, not just for the editors who operated from the newsroom nerve centre in Nairobi like myself, but for the reporters who experienced first-hand the daily hustle, the intrigues in political rallies, the vagaries of weather, not to mention having to cover lots of rallies within a very short span of time.
There are times you would get a distress call from a reporter enquiring how to deal with a situation. The politicians, thanks to the choppers at their beck and call, could cover as much ground as possible but here you are in Nairobi, expecting the reporter to get the finer details in each of these rallies. In some instances, it became difficult for them, but as an editor you have to devise ways of ensuring that you get the news ready, accurate and factual for the newscast, either by recording the politicians’ speeches at the rallies, in cases where the rallies were beamed live on television.
Dealing with bias
Elections are emotive and bearing in mind that various factions are competing for political power, a lot is at play and individual media houses and journalists are at times singled out even when there is no merit in the claims of bias. The profiling puts their lives at risk, and this was evident during the campaign period.
Fuelling this was politicians’ desire to control what goes on air and this not only gave me and my colleagues an extra reason to be more cautious, and thorough, but also to glean the news coming in with a tooth comb.
With the elections came propaganda and fake news peddled by each camp in a bid to claim an advantage over the other. This called for a lot of fact-checking and verification. I particularly remember when the Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga named former Justice Minister Martha Karua as his running mate in the August 9 general elections. There were all manner of congratulatory messages. For the first time a woman was a running mate of a major presidential candidate and stood a good chance of being a deputy president of Kenya. However, one thing stood out. A fake tweet was made implying that Tanzanian President Suluhu Hassan had also congratulated Martha Karua on this fete, when in actual sense she hadn’t. Unaware of the fake tweet, Karua fell for it too.
This is just one instance of the many fake news that the purveyors fed the unsuspecting public with. To beat this, my colleagues and I devised means of ensuring such stories did not pass. Team work, vigilance and fact-checking being key.
Rawlings Otieno: information flow took long
I had the unique benefit of covering the 2022 General elections, from the front which gave me the chance to observe and witness things as they unfolded as I was on the campaign trail.
Apart from the campaign rallies, I was stationed at the National Tallying Centre, the Bomas of Kenya where a lot transpired in the period preceding the announcement of the winner of the presidential vote.
From my casual observation, one thing stood out: the commissioners at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission(IEBC) were not real quick with the information they gave to journalists, at times leaving them frustrated. Even with the periodic updates they gave to the media, you could sense they took too long, at times three or four hours late than the scheduled time. In my view this was a pointer to the tedious verification process they had to make or the in-fights we all saw play out amongst the commissioners. This was frustrating to reporters who needed quick accurate information.
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.
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