Kenya's media self-censoring to reduce vote tension
Nairobi: It's the biggest news of the year in Kenya: A Presidential Election with huge potential for violence. Why then are the headlines so boring, the TV broadcasts so dull? The answer: Kenyan media are self-censoring the story to avoid fanning the flames of conflict.
Kenyan media members told a news agency on Thursday that the Media Owners Association agreed not to sensationalise headlines or even put political press conferences live on the air, to avoid airing hate speech or political attacks that could incite violence.
It's a noble goal. After Kenya's 2007 president vote vicious tribe-on-tribe violence killed more than 1,000 people. Small bouts of violence have been reported in Kenya in the days after Monday's Presidential Election, though the country has remained largely peaceful.
But media self-censorship raises concerns about the public's right to know.
"The editors are not allowing inflammatory statements to get into the newspapers," said Kenfrey Kiberenge, a reporter for the Daily Nation, Kenya's most widely read paper. Kiberenge said there was a deliberate effort to avoid what he called "inflaming passions".
Media messages that incite violence have been a deadly problem in Africa. Rwanda's 1994 genocide was preceded by ethnic hate speech and accusations on radio and in newspapers.
After the 2007-08 election violence in Kenya, the International Criminal Court indicted radio broadcaster Joshua Sang, whom the court accused of coordinating a campaign of killing.
"We actually made a mistake in 2007 as Kenyan media," said Dennis Okari, a TV reporter for KISSTV, who noted that many media outlets are owned or overseen by political leaders.
"At that time many media houses had actually taken sides. Some were supporting (Prime Minister) Raila Odinga, some were backing (President) Mwai Kibaki," he said. "We were partly blamed for the postelection violence. This time things have been done a bit different."
Okari said the Media Owners Association decided that media outlets would broadcast a message of peace this election, and that all stories must be checked to ensure they aren't inciting violence. TV stations, he said, have agreed not to put statements by politicians live on air, in case they contain a dangerous message.
The chairman of the media association didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.