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Battles, wars, conflicts, fights and huge damage violent headlines inflict on Kenya

How forgetful is the human mind? How easily do adults disremember recent events? Isn’t it just a month ago when Kenyans were calling for peace? Wasn’t the media at the forefront demanding that politicians find peaceful ways to resolve their differences instead of calling for maandamano? Weren’t newspaper headlines and write-ups suggesting the country is bigger than the two major political formations, Azimio and Kenya Kwanza and their principals, Raila Amolo Odinga and William Ruto?

Yet, Kenyan media, as usual and like many other Kenyans, had stoked the fires that threatened to burn the country down. Businesses were closed or operated only partially. Property was destroyed during maandamano. Protestors and innocent bystanders were injured or lost lives. Tension shut down parts of the country. In fact, the media reported cases of supposed inter-ethnic conflicts, apparently caused by political differences between the warring groups.

At some point the politicians seemed to have seen the damage that their political intransigence was causing to the country. They saw the blood spilled on the streets and attended funerals of victims. They heard the cries of Kenyans and urgings from friends of Kenyans that peace was the better option than war. Dialogue was proposed; negotiations are happening right now.

So, why the continued headlines suggesting battles, wars, conflicts, fights etcetera between Raila and Ruto? Why does the media find these violent headlines necessary? There is a higher chance of winning a bet that Kenyan newspapers will declare war between Raila and Ruto at least four times in a week than there is of winning a wager on SportsPesa. Why? In whose interest are these headlines that perpetually suggest a state of restlessness or an impending confrontation between the two politicians, and their supporters?

Is it because the media feels obliged to retail dramatic news to attract and retain more audiences? Or is it because Kenyan journalists just find the theme of hostility a better seller of news? Or is this preoccupation with the subject of enmity a stylistic approach that is hard to break away from? One doesn’t want to speculate that the obsession with the imagery of war or fight is just a case of journalistic laziness.

Do these headlines serve any greater good? Is it not possible to report on the political differences between the two figures and their affiliations without invoking war? After all, an opposition stance doesn’t necessarily have to be aggressive. People who subscribe to different political views don’t have to fight or kill each other. They don’t have to live in exclusive zones and maintain permanent hostilities. Politics doesn’t have to be a matter of life and death. It can and should be civil.

The media has a big role to play in ‘civilising’ our politics. If Kenyans want clean politics, the kind where competition is just that, a contest between two or more persons or groups, with mutual respect, then the media must be a sensitive and an unbiased observer. The media must align itself with the greater interest of the people of Kenya. Kenyans want peace. They want progress. They want security, justice, and freedom. Undoubtedly, the media would wish to exist in an economically vibrant country, one where conflict doesn’t have to be resolved through a fight.

Thus, it is the duty of Kenyan media to avoid unnecessary use of inflammatory language. Even when politicians use incendiary words, the media isn’t obliged to report news by citing the speakers verbatim. This is not to say that the media should censor politicians who use provocative language. No. It is to suggest that the media should hold such politicians to account to the law of the country in case they try to incite citizens against each other. It is to urge the media to remain committed to serving the interests of the citizens and not just those of the politicians.

The media cannot be the ones beating the drums of war. Political differences should produce smarter ideas on how to govern and develop the country instead of how to fight for the spoils.

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