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Journalism in Africa: Kenyan media accused of inciting post-election violence

July 31st, 2008Posted by in Uncategorized

Dennis Itumbi reports from Nairobi, Kenya, for Journalism.co.uk:

The Kenyan media is under pressure from the government over coverage of the fallout from the disputed general election results in the east African Country in December last year.

The country’s Independent Review Commission (IRC), which is tasked with investigating the post-election violence, has heard that the media’s live broadcasts were immature and used vernacular language to incite reactions from audiences when results went against their own political convictions.

“The media announced different results and did not provide guidance when disputes arose; the media failed the nation when it needed it most,” Moses Kuria, a political party activist, told the
commission.

Vernacular radio stations in particular were criticised for urging listeners to fight back for ‘their people’ during the January and February skirmishes that left over 1,000 people dead and hundreds of families displaced.

The same criticisms have been upheld by members of the Post-Election Violence Commission, chaired by Kenyan judge Philip Waki.

Representatives of the Journalist Association of Kenya (JAK) told the commission that journalists should be absolved from blame, as reporters were merely doing their job of relaying the events and were not involved in arming, funding or mobilizing any community.

“The media is a reflection of the society: reporters were not expected to act as state propaganda agencies and report all was well when churches were being burnt, families were being chased from their homes and politicians were inciting everyone,” explained Martin Gitau, JAK secretary general.

“Our role is to inform and educate. We stuck to our professional calling and where we went wrong we should be specifically blamed and investigated, not branded rotten when we were not.”

However, Gitau admitted that, ‘the use of live coverage was not done to professional standards because this was the first time the technology was being used to cover a general election at such a large scale.’

What role the media played in the post-election coverage will be publicly probed by the commission for the next two months at least.

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