The media has a massive responsibility in providing factual coverage that does not perpetuate myths or stereotypes, encourage generalizations or spread misinformation. In an electioneering period where all perspectives about candidates are welcomed, Media plays a vital role perhaps even influencing who emerges the winner.
In the recently concluded general elections in Kenya, Mainstream Media took a pivotal role, with some Media stations going as far as campaigning for specific candidates camouflaged into peace campaigns. They gave uninterrupted news coverage to their favorite candidates and featured them as many as five times in a single news brief. To the competition, they would sabotage their aspirations by featuring negative aspects of their campaign and again limited screen time.
This together with sponsored polls to indicate that specific candidates were way ahead in the run up to elections, was meant to sway voters into believing that the election was already won. Some voters across the divide did not vote, out of the believe that their candidate already had enough votes or that they were going to lose anyway. We have Kenyans who refused to watch or consume content from Mainstream Media for over a year for what they termed as Calculated, consistent narratives targeted to influencing their voting decision.
However, to their detriment, Social Media has come of age, Candidates would livestream their campaigns to their followers, engage with them directly and keep reassuring them that they were on the winning side. With their massive online following, they were able to address concerns from the electorate real time, they were also able to counter negative propaganda almost instantaneously. Without the power of Social Media, perhaps the damage to the campaigns of some candidates would have been irreparable and would have certainly lost the elections.
The biggest question is then asked, ‘Is it really worth it for Media to take Sides and openly campaign for specific Candidates?”. Currently, there is debate over empowerment of some Media Stations with some followers crying foul on what they believe as revenge. Be it Revenge or not, Kenyan Media have to relook at their roles in the society.