Media and elections: Our journalists must follow the rules to prevent chaos
Posted Tuesday, May 1 2012 at 20:00
Nearly every report on the last elections fingered the media for blame, some more than others. Vernacular stations have particularly been scrutinised.
Have the newsrooms instituted sufficient reforms to forestall a repeat of the mistakes made in 2007/2008?
The Media Council of Kenya, in consultation with industry stakeholders, has developed guidelines for covering elections.
All the major media houses have given their commitment to abide by these guidelines.
Further, each media house has either developed its own code for coverage of elections, or is in the process of doing so, and the MCK guidelines are being considered the barest minimum. It is worthwhile highlighting some of these MCK guidelines.
They spell out the duty of the media to the voter, to the political candidate, and to the nation.
The voter should be in a position to make a fully informed choice. It is the role of the media to aid this process by providing as much information as possible.
The media have a responsibility to provide political candidates with a forum where they can clearly articulate their policies, essentially extending the microphone to as many candidates as possible.
The guidelines spell out the values for the profession. These include truth and accuracy, impartiality, confidentiality, honesty and provision of the right to reply.
Too often, journalists develop a too close camaraderie with politicians. When reporters cosy up to sources, they begin to get influenced by these sources.
Journalists must avoid bribery in whatever form and check all unethical conduct.
The guidelines acknowledge the right and responsibilities of journalists. Journalists must demonstrate integrity and act ethically and objectively.
They must be qualified, knowledgeable both in their subject area and in law as it touches on their profession.
But in the process they must be careful that they remain safe as they go about covering these elections, and their employers should commit themselves to protecting journalists in the course of their duties.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has spelt out guidelines dealing with hate speech.
Journalists must thus gingerly navigate hate speech in their reporting, conscious that publishing hate speech is a breach of the law.
Covering opinion polls will be one challenge for journalists. They have to master how to report numbers and develop the capacity to thoroughly interrogate opinion survey results.
The World Association of Opinion Polls Research has a set of questions that journalists should ask as they cover opinion polls: