Charged referendum atmosphere; what can the media do?
By John Harry Ndeta, Ajabu Africa News , posted July 4, 2010
The media plays a wide range of roles in our lives and this has become
even more real in the modern age. Some of these roles are constructive
and some are destructive. Recognising the diversity within media
professionals is a first step in critically analysing how best to use
the media to support conflict prevention and peace-building around the
referendum period when the country is highly polarized.
Kenyan media needs to provide platforms for opposing camps to
negotiate, build confidence, and facilitate negotiations to break a
constitutional deadlock that has gripped the nation to create a
climate conducive for a free fair and credible referendum. The
Government and all key players in the constitutional review process
need to make use of media events such as press releases, luncheons,
concerts, live interviews and talk shows to enhance negotiations
minimising points of conflict on the proposed constitution. Open and
deliberate media events will help in promotion and mobilization of
public support for negotiations and agreements.
Kenya needs to borrow a leaf from Burundi where Radio Ijambo is
attempting to harness the power of radio for constructive purposes.
After the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, Ijambo Radio was set up with a team of
twenty Hutu and Tutsi journalists to promote dialogue, peace, and
reconciliation. Studio Ijambo produces approximately one hundred radio
programs per month to create a steady campaign to promote peace. There
is need in Kenya today to encourage all media houses to incorporate a
peace component in their daily work just like we have entertainment,
politics and religious bits.
The media can promote positive relationships between groups,
particularly in conflicts over national, ethnic, religious identities.
It properly put to use the media has the highest potential of
lessening polarization between groups by showing the other in a
similar light to self. In Kenya for example, angling of news where
Kenyans are shown that whatever the outcome of the constitutional
referendum it is aptly not them to lose but politicians and those in
the NO and YES camp with vested interests would help may Kenyans to
vote much more objectively.
The Kenyan print media joined hands in early 2008 and gave Save our
Motherland” This was a strong message coming from the most trusted
source of information in the country to the opposing camps that led to
a cease fire and eventual signing of the Nation Accord facilitated by
One of the bones of contention today as we prepare for the referendum
is peddling of untruths about the proposed constitution to fit
personal and sectarian interests. The media can and should provide
people with relevant information about the proposed constitution and
respond to more imminent problem of national disintegration arising
from hate speech and untruths about the constitution in the run up to
the August 4, referendum. At least in part, people make decisions and
choices in regard to political issues, judgment of other groups in
society and general preferences based on the media. In fact in Kenya,
recent surveys and opinion polls have all indicated that media is the
most trusted source of information for the Kenyan societies.
The media interpret events beyond our physical realm and help us make
sense of them. With the improvement of technologies and the
advancement of new media such as the internet, media plays an
increasingly more prominent role in our daily communication and
Media sometimes acts as the people’s watchdog by providing feedback to
the public on issues of conflict. When the first and second estate
battles it out as exemplified by State-Religion tussle over the
proposed constitution, the media which is the third Estate needs to
assert its authority.
Kenyan Media should bring out hidden agenda’s
into the public limelight hence expose those who plan to instigate
conflict akin to what was witnessed after the 2007 elections.
Investigative reporting can bring to the surface skims to derail
reform agenda hence help Kenyans know who are pro and anti-reforms.
In so doing, Kenyans will have a choice to make on how to vote come
August 4 when we adopt a new constitution or reject it.
For example, if it is true that someone inserted words National
Security in the proposed constitution as has been alleged few weeks
ago against the wishes of Kenyans, the media would do as a lot of good
by digging out the truth and exposing those behind it. The use of
surveillance cameras at all rallies would help expose scenes like what
was witnessed a week ago when three grenades were detonated at Uhuru
Park rally called by religious leaders allied to the NO camp.
media reporting can play an important complementary role alongside
other post conflict reconciliation processes to promote awareness of
critical social issues and bring them into the public arena so they
can be addressed.
Kenyan media and can also act as a gatekeeper who sets agendas,
filters issues and tries to maintain a balance of views during this
moment of tension. This is only if the media practitioners adhere to
professional code of conduct as prescribed by the Media Council of
Kenya, Communications commission of Kenya and any other law regarding
In Rwanda for instance, Radio Rwanda and Radio Télévision Libre des
Mille Collines (RTLM) gave platform for hate speech mongers to preach
hatred leading to a genocide that claimed almost a million people.
This prompted extensive analysis on how and when media professionals
should act as gatekeepers to prevent certain expressions that could be
deemed humiliating or offensive to some groups.
It is in this regard
that the formation of the National Cohesion and Integration commission
of Kenya by an act of parliament following the events of 2007/8 post
election violence is perfectly in order. The commission should not
just focus on individuals who perpetuate hate messages but also those
media houses that are themselves conduits of rumor-mongering.
Why and When to Use the Media for Conflict Prevention a THE MEDIA IN
During the clamor for reforms like what Kenya is going through, the
media should be at the forefront influencing policymakers,
particularly as they think about how to prevent and respond to violent
conflict. The media is also a tool of policymakers to get across their
message. Schools of thought in social media indicate that media has a
central role in policy making process.
Widespread condemnation of the
violence in editorial and opinion pages; exposing of the ugly head of
violence in Radio and TV and all channels of communication force
policymakers to intervene greatly minimizing the ripple effects of
violence. For example, the media played a very important role in
motivating the public to press for change in 2002 leading to an
overwhelming vote for NARC.
It is time media upped invitations of leaders of the YES and NO camps
to TV or Radio program to talk with each other with objective
facilitation. By so doing, the media may help to create bridges among
opposing camps and build confidence in each other. This will in turn
build the confidence of the populace in the issues and their
proponents prior to the voting day laying ground for general
acceptability of the outcome of referendum polls.
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