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Sunday, 16 May 2010


Kenyans go to the poll in August with a chance to either usher in a new Constitution or reject the proposed one, in the country's second ever referendum. Should the Kenyan media attempt to be neutral or this time around just openly declare their support for or against the draft?

The angel you don't know has never been a better choice compared to the devil you know, and that apparently, is what has been bedeviling the local media industry.

Public perception has often been that this and that media house supports the government's position and that and that are against it.

And this labeling, whether accurate or fallacious is despite the said media houses insisting they are non-partisan and accommodative of all interested parties and divergent views.

Almost immediately after the Media Owners Association pledged to adhere to fair reporting of both sides, ahead of the constitution referendum in Kenya, critics expressed their distrust of this promise. So would it be preferable to openly side with either side?

Where media take sides on major issues

In more advanced economies and democracies, media establishments have historically never shied from siding with a particular viewpoint. In the recently concluded UK elections, some newspapers even went as far as running smear campaigns against certain parties or candidates.

The public and the concerned authorities seemingly are not bothered by the fact that this amounts to unbalanced reporting and denial of fair comment tenets. And probably due to the fact that their position had been stated beforehand, there is no ethical offense committed.

Is the media scene in Kenya, as argued by veteran scribe Joe Kadhi,  ripe for such a situation? On the face of it, it might be asking for too much, given the fragile nature of the country's politics and not to mention the economy's own frailty. If a media house backs the wrong choice, it could have serious financial implications.

But then again, the reality is that certain media houses are bound to be adjudged pro-establishment, however hard they try to take the middle path. And others will always appear to bear the burden of being anti-government in the Kenyan public eye.

That could one day inspire some courage to openly declare an official position on major political matters like General Elections or a plebiscite, just like the way the press has been steadfast on declaring where they stand on issues of national importance like corruption or environmental conservation.

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