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Whose agenda does the media sell?

As the numbers of Kenyans infected with Covid-19 continues to increase, the 2022 politics dictate most headlines with striking confrontational messages. We considered a few newspaper articles to demonstrate how media is being driven by political agendas.

Whether the media is setting the agenda or conveying the ‘other’ agenda is what has motivated this article. The media has a lot of influence in shaping information and discussions. In fact most people discuss what is contained in newspapers or radio.

One of the key roles of the media is to report what happens in society and the people then form their opinions based on the information provided. However, recent trends in most newspapers, television, radio stations and online point to the need to pose the question: whose agenda does media set? The headlines of June 4, 2020, “Uhuru order stirs up storm over Ruto role” (Daily Nation) and “Nowhere to hide” (Standard) described the planned move by some MPs allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta to remove Adan Duale as Leader of Majority at the National Assembly.

The media in Kenya isn’t new to politics of the land and how leaders manipulate every available opportunity to suit their interest. In this case, the media should always protect the public from such manipulation by disengaging from any content that is likely to threaten the coexistence of Kenyans. Journalists are required to write stories that present the facts accurately and provide a balanced view of both sides of an issue. They are free to express their ideologies and opinions while covering stories but this should not compromise objectivity.

The Star newspaper June 12-14 carried the headline, “DP Ruto factor in Ford-K turmoil.” The paper wrote that, “Support for Deputy President William Ruto could be behind the Ford-Kenya wars with secretary general Eseli Simiyu accusing party leader Moses Wetang’ula of secretly warming up to the DP.”

Another screaming headline, “Big shocker for Ruto as budget is almost halved”, linked budget reduction to 2022 politics by alleging that this will affect Ruto’s movement rather than his performance. “The DP’s domestic travel, subsistence and other transportation costs have been slashed by half…in what will likely reduce his movement across the country.” This begs the questions: Is the public consuming the right information?

Every journalist should report events and observations rather than selecting a general viewpoint and attempting to persuade their audience that the viewpoint is correct by carefully selecting and interpreting only what suits their ideologies. Looking at the Daily Nation headline of June 11 and reading entire article on how the 2020 budget had “cut DP Ruto to size” points to the continued politicization of important issues by media.

Now, did the 2020 budget cut Ruto to size or Daily Nation cut Ruto to size? This is one of the questions that confronts readers. The continued political realignments call upon the media to avoid being a bystander that describes only political activities of certain individuals or parties ignoring the context and background in news coverage. By ignoring ethical guidelines, journalists explicitly become partisan characters in politics as they exhibit clear biases and generally such stories normally have little balanced reporting.

One other interesting newspaper headline was “The fixers” by The Standard newspaper of April 20, describing COTU secretary general Francis Atwoli and Jubilee vice chairman, David Murathe.

If what Fursich Elfriede in an article, “How can global journalists represent the ‘Other’?” is true then Kenyan media needs to change their reporting even as the political environment continues change. Elfriede argues that “most reporting is a form of representing the other” and such reporting tends to fall into what Chris Atton in 2006 referred as ‘native reporting,’ where social actors refuse to be news subjects and become their own correspondents reporting their own experiences, struggles and ideas.

Considering the changing political environment in Kenya and the increasing central role of the media, it would be unfortunate for the media to act as a platform through which political class can polarize society. Journalists must understand that the public depends on them and they should provide the public with the right information.

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