"How far to go?" Kenya's media caught in the turmoil of a failed election

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Column : Media
Published on : 07/03/2008
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Reporters Without Borders, International Media Support and Article 19 issue a report on their joint mission to Kenya to investigate the behaviour of the local media in the country's unprecedented national crisis.

The media in Africa does not always enthusiastically join in political crises by egging on murderous militants, as is often believed, and Kenya's press, in the violent aftermath of last 27 December's disputed presidential election, was a very good example of how it does not.

But the Kenyan media failed in its duty to report fully on the political crisis and violence that followed last 27 December's presidential election because it was too busy trying to "calm passions and encourage reconciliation," a joint fact-finding mission by Reporters Without Borders, International Media Support and Article 19 said today.

Doing this and "criticising the country's politicians as irresponsible and unpatriotic" was not its primary job and was used as a diversion and way of coping with pressure from the government not to report what was going on. The media's true duty was to "report the facts, present them to those involved in the events and let the public judge," it said.

Editors and journalists were inexperienced in reporting on such a crisis after decades of peace, the report said, and the government feared a Rwanda-style situation. Tervil Okoko, chairman of the Kenya Union of Journalists, said the freedom the media had enjoyed for so many years gave it a false sense of security and self-censorship took over.

David Makali, director of the local Media Institute press freedom group, said the country's media failed in its duty to report the truth, which he said journalists may have sought out but didn't dare to report.

The three organisations urged the government to trust the media more and help boost its structure. They called on political parties to stop using vernacular radio stations as political tools and on the media to do some soul-searching about what went wrong and to train their journalists in investigative reporting.

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