By Mwakera Mwajefa.
The answer to this question can be picked from content analysis of media reportage on the two presidential frontrunners.
As the media commits acres of space and hours of airtime to the early campaigns, it ought to be aware of Section 2 of the Elections Act that defines campaign period as the period specified as such in the notice issued by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in relation to an election.
With such an illegality on the card, media houses should have given early campaigns coverage a wild berth because the official campaign period for purpose of the 2022 general election is yet to be gazetted (official period is to commence from May 29).
Again, the media knows that campaigns only begin once an aspirant has been registered as a candidate by the IEBC to contest for any of the six elective seats.
In fact, Section 14 of the Elections Act which provides for the initiation of a general election, follows that any ongoing campaign drive including campaign posters are tantamount to a breach of the Act, and as such an electoral offence. But who cares?
The acres of print space and volumes of airtime being meted to the two leading coalitions – Azimio One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza – is unbelievable and meant to script the election as a two-horse race mantra.
Globally, the mainstream media tend to see elections through the prism of competition and thus, cover campaign elections like sports events with a winner-loser basis.
The media also perpetuates character-based scripts bias with selective exposure of a growing media political schism that tend to drive polarisation during elections.
Why does the media flock to the frontrunners in lieu of the invisible candidates because they cannot win enough interest from the media? Is this not rigging at its best? Studies indicate that media bias shape political opinions, persuade voters and exercise strong influence over the electoral process and election outcomes.
Independent media is crucial, and without free press, democracy processes are almost impracticable. That’s why manipulation of election campaigns should be called out when they influence the voting behaviour of voters.
For media to maintain high standards of professionalism, unbiasedness, impartiality, accuracy, objectivity and balance, it must desist from covering political events with a skewed mentality to sway voters to a certain direction.
When the media fails to ensure level playing field for all candidates and all parties irrespective of political credentials in the public opinion, then it loses its moral authority and role as the watchdog of democracy and governance.
Actually, the media collects, edits and frames news information for the public to make political decisions and casting of vote in elections; therefore, manipulating opinions and behaviours of the voters through framing, priming and subjective presentation of news should be avoided like plague!
To reduce the perception gaps of voters during television or radio talkshows, the media editors or content producers should not automatically assume that contributors/commentators such as academicians, researchers, columnists, journalists, thinktanks and party representatives are unbiased in their viewpoints or opinions.
Not to be seen as rigging this August elections, the media houses should avoid fixed patterns of using the same faces, the same voices and the same viewpoints that are recycled from one media house to another in a vicious circle!
As it is, none of the mainstream media houses’ bulletins or programmes either online or offline and interactive services are ensuring parties or independent candidates proportional media coverage over appropriate period of electioneering.
Everybody knows journalists wield a lot of power over the Kenya political process and as such there’s need for them to adhere to the basic elements of journalism.
They are supposed to be obligated to the truth; loyalty to citizens; discipline of verification; independent monitor of power; have forum for public criticism and compromise; maintain independence from those covered; strive to keep the debate significant interesting and relevant; keep news comprehensive and proportional; exercise personal conscience and recognize citizens’ rights and responsibilities when it comes to news.
The media must be transparent and accountable just as it requires other election actors to be the same. To do otherwise is tantamount to rigging the electoral process.