Media criticized over skewed election coverage
After Kenyans left the election booths on August 8th, their eyes were glued on their TV set for streaming results of the presidential elections and other five positions as well as reports on the prevailing security situation based on the country’s history of experiencing pockets of violence when results are announced and the increased activities of the security sectors which included heavy deployment of anti-riot police officers in areas identified as hot spots.
Immediately the polls closed, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) provided links to a public portal that members of the public and the media could use to access election results for the presidential and five other elective posts. Soon afterwards, the results would start scrolling at the bottom of our TV sets.
It was not until about 14 hours later that the opposition called a press conference to challenge the results being released to the public. The opposition led by their candidate Raila Odinga claimed that the results being released to the public were doctored following a hacking of the IEBC system. They further claimed that the results were not accompanied by scanned copies of Form 34A as required by law.
What the IEBC has posted as results of the presidential election is a complete fraud based on a multiplier that fraudulently gave Uhuru Kenyatta votes that were not cast.
– Raila Odinga, NASA Presidential Candidate.
During the presser, Raila Odinga also provided a log alleged to be of the IEBC servers that showed an unauthorized access into the IEBC system using the login details of an IEBC official who was murdered a week to the elections.
It is at this point that the conduct of the media came under scrutiny. All the major news outlets continued to broadcast the results streaming from the portal provided by the IEBC without seeking to independently verify the details using their reporters on the ground.
A Court of Appeal decision in June had made it clear that results of the presidential election declared at polling stations and constituency tallying centers were final and could not be altered by IEBC mandarins at the national tallying center in Nairobi. That opened the door for the media to run independent tallies and, despite largely empty government threats of having their licenses canceled, even call the election. And indeed, many already had this capacity. In January, Samuel Macharia, owner of Kenya’s largest TV and radio network, Royal Media Services, told the Senate that his network had independently tracked records at every presidential election since 1992.
– Patrick Gathara
Interestingly, no media house tried to get at IT expert to look at the logs provided bu the opposition coalition as evidence of hacking. The electoral body has however said that the logs provided by Mr. Odinga’s team were those of a Microsoft server while their serves ran on an Oracle system.
Others have however argued that the inability of the media to immediately verify presidential election results using the Form 34As as signed at the constituency tallying centers was an issue of capacity and not complacency.
The results transmission though was not the only issue people are having with the media. The objection of the results by the opposition put in place an impasse that resulted in heightened tension in parts of the country. This quickly escalated to pockets of protests which were quashed by the security agencies – some with lethal force. As this was happening, the local media focused their cameras at the national tallying centers and on their studio panels with zero mention of the violence that was already being witnessed in parts of the country.
Chris, a breakfast show host on Kisumu’s Urban Radio thinks this conduct is evidence of lack of professionalism in the mainstream media industry.
Our media is filled with complacency. People who think that journalism is showing up to spew the rubbish they heard on CNN or in an inebriated argument they had in a bar, void of any form of intellect. This once noble profession is filled with laggards who have never had an original thought and seem to believe, having people reading their blogs and following them on social media, somehow justifies their profound ignorance. Why? Because we the media could not even do simple arithmetic. We just needed to connect the dots. Instead, we defended our profession even though the incompetence stuck out like a sore thumb. A sharp smile and a punchline isn’t going to cut it anymore.
– Chris Okinda, host Urban AM on Urban Radio 90.7 FM.
Ben Ogombe, a media owner in Kisumu agrees that the mainstream media was a big letdown in this election but sees that as an opportunity for bold independent media houses to rise.
Mainstream media was such a big letdown. A huge tyrant. This is a gap we are going to fill with our radio and website – bold and true.
– Ben Ogombe, CEO Urban Radio 90.7 FM
Gathara in his article insinuates an unholy alliance between the Kenyan media and the state to portray things as normal in the exchange of millions in advertisement revenue.
Rather than preaching peace, the Kenyan media is earning its 30 pieces of silver by ignoring or editing out citizen frustrations in order to maintain a facade of normality. But there’s nothing normal about this silencing, the de-legitimization of those who feel the need to express their discontent through peaceful marches, or by ignoring those who may have died at the hands of the police.
– Patrick Gathara, Africa Blogging author.
Whether there was a pact between the state and the media and whether the media conduct during this election period was wanting will be a subject for discussion in day, week probably even months to come. What is not in doubt though is that the media will be doing some soul searching and probably drawing lessons to build from in covering future elections.
A version of this article was also submitted for publication on the Africa Blogging website.
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