Is the Kenyan media an enabler of political violence as a section of government thinks?

Kenyan Media

The Deputy President, Rigathi Gachagua has lately been portrayed as a man not friendly to media freedom. According to information filtering around, the deputy president is being viewed as a man bent on stifling freedom of a sector that has severally been classified as most trusted by the Kenyan citizenry.

His utterance in Kakamega last week, together with those of Musalia Mudavadi, the chief prime minister did not help matters.

At the Malaba prayer function, the two were quoted by various media outlets linking live media coverage to potential fanning of political violence.

While the two have been bashed by all and sundry about the positions they hold on the matter, their utterances sharply brings to fore the never-ending debate about the role of media in political violence.

Over the last two or three weeks, Kenyans have seen street demonstrations that have been called by the opposition supporters led by the Azimio leaders protesting cost of living, unilateral reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) unilaterally, ethnicisation of the civil service and opening of the servers onstensibly with the hope that it will show different presidential results from those declared by the then IEBC Chair, Mr Wafula Chebukati during last August 2022 elections.

The demonstrations however have witnessed police brutality and have been characterized by stone-throwing, tear gas lobbying and paralysed businesses and transport sector.

Studies around this area has always exhibited a complex and often-contentious relation.

On one hand, media can serve as an enabler of political violence by amplifying extremist views and providing a platform for propaganda and hate speech. On the other hand, media can also play a crucial role in exposing and condemning political violence, and in promoting dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts.

One of the ways in which media can enable political violence is by providing a platform for extremist views and ideologies.

In many cases, extremist groups use social media platforms to disseminate propaganda and recruit new members.
These groups often use violent or aggressive language to incite their followers and justify their actions. This can create a vicious cycle in which the media provides a platform for extremist views, which in turn encourages further violence and extremism.

Moreover, media can also contribute to political violence by promoting hate speech and stoking ethnic, racial or religious tensions. This was the case during the last chaos the country witnessed in the 2007-2008 politically instigated ethnic clashes.

A study be Sharon Anyango Odhiambo, Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding Scholar on the 2008 violence showed that local media organizations played a role in amplifying hate speech that helped fuel the 2007-2008 post-election violence, which left over 1,100 dead.

But the then vilified media atoned itself in the 2013 elections, when players rose above partisanship to promote what has come to be known as “peace journalism,” the promulgation of state guidelines to avoid hate speech, and a recommitment to capacity-building among journalists

By providing a platform for divisive and polarizing views, media outlets can create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust that can escalate into violence.

Furthermore, media can also contribute to political violence by legitimizing violence as a means of achieving political goals.

Gachagua and Mudavadi may however come from the background of viewing the media outlets reports on violent incidents as portraying demonstrators as justified or heroic (whichever way one may want to look at), in which case, the media would then have been creating an atmosphere in which violence is seen as a legitimate tool for achieving political change.

This can encourage individuals or groups to engage in violent acts in pursuit of their political objectives, potentially leading to further violence and instability. Viewed in that latter case, no government would stomach such a stance.

However, the beef with the government is that the media players also realise how important it is in exposing and condemning political violence.

By providing accurate and balanced reporting on violent incidents, the Kenyan media outlets realise tha they can help to raise awareness of the dangers of political violence and the need for peaceful resolution of conflicts.

This can also help to promote accountability on the part of security agents and prevent impunity for those responsible for political violence, be they from Azimio (opposition) or Kenya Kwanza (governing coalition).

Furthermore, media can also promote dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts by providing a platform for diverse voices and perspectives.

By facilitating open and constructive dialogue between different groups as evidenced by the many morning and breakfast shows in our television and radio stations, media can help to build bridges of understanding and promote reconciliation.

In addition, media can also play a role in promoting democracy and human rights by holding governments and other actors accountable for their actions.

By reporting on human rights violations, corruption and abuses of power, media can help to expose wrongdoing and promote transparency and accountability. This can help to prevent political violence by creating a culture of respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Without doubt then, the role of media in relation to political violence is complex and multifaceted. While media can serve as an enabler of political violence by amplifying extremist views and promoting hate speech, it can also play a crucial role in exposing and condemning political violence, and in promoting dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts.

To maximize the positive impact of media in preventing political violence, it is important to promote responsible and ethical journalism, and to support media outlets that prioritize accuracy, balance and impartiality.

The writer is a strategic communication specialist:
Is the Kenyan media an enabler of political violence as a section of government thinks?

By Henry Neondo

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