Human security, characterized by peace and security, is a fundamental human right just like education, health and clean water. Human security is the foundation for sustainable human development. Traditionally, the government has the predominant role in protecting and promoting peace, security and stability. However, with the current technological advances in communications and satellite, the media plays a key role in shaping perceptions of people and setting the political agenda. In view of this, how does the media maintain their role as amplifiers and facilitators of spread of messages that discourage violence and appeal for peaceful co-existence? How can the media ensure that they are not used as mouthpieces for government and politician’s propaganda? How can the media play a key role in providing a forum for dialogue and reconciliation?
Kenya’s current political debates and speeches by cabinet ministers and senior politicians are likely to fuel ethnic animosity. We have seen open abuses that centre on negative stereotypes of certain communities, similar representation, that fuelled the country into chaos during the 2008 post-election violence. Worrying is the fact that the media seem to be conforming to the politician’s agenda and regime within which they operate. It is disquieting that the media seem to have ceded their journalistic tools and agenda setting and opinion shaping role to politicians!
What the country requires at the moment is to help reconcile communities ahead of the 2012 general elections. The responsible people - politicians and MPs – have failed to reconcile communities but capitalize on utterances that negatively stereotype certain tribes. This is likely to worsen an already highly charged tribal country. While evidence exists of how the media can strengthen democracy in fragile and conflict-affected states like Kenya, equal evidence exists of how media can reinforce already deep societal divides.
There is no doubt that the media in Kenya is playing a positive role but this role must be further enhanced and strengthened so that the media promotes peace and stability. For instance, while providing a forum for public issues, coverage and analysis of issues should be further enriched and deepened. There are critical issues that need to be addressed sooner than later. For instance, should journalists allow politicians hold their microphones during public rallies as they give positions that undermine state stability? Should such politicians be allowed time and space to promote divisive speeches that are likely to fuel ethnic violence? Should the media broadcast and publish such proceedings without serious analysis to contextualize and put into perspective the issues presented and their impact on promoting violence? Is it time journalists in the country received refresher courses in ensuring that the media effectively promotes peace, stability and peace co-existence ahead of the 2012 general elections? Should the Media Council of Kenya in close liaison with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission developed guidelines and/or began discussions on how media should specifically address these issues?
I am afraid that if the status quo remains with journalists ceding the journalistic tools and agenda setting roles to politicians, Kenya could be plunged into chaos, worse than experienced in 2008 following the disputed presidential results.