In early 2008 the development community watches carefully as Kenyan political tensions and violence rose. A central policy issue was the role of the media. Prompted by that question, The BBC WST, with Kenyan partners produced a paper that "...examines political polarity in the media and its function as a political tool..." For a summary and to access the full text click here.

Policy conclusions described as relevant to development policymakers include:

  1. "The media... play a central role in shaping Kenya’s democracy. The recent record of the media, according to many within it, is that media has undermined as well as invigorated that democracy....[The briefing urges] development actors to be better engaged and more supportive of media in the future.

  2. The problem facing Kenya's media is not an excess of media freedom... [but rather] a lack of it....Journalists and broadcasters face immense commercial and political constraints which are constraining their journalistic independence and integrity.

  3. Some local language radio stations have incited fear and hatred....Talk shows have provided the greatest opportunities for hate speech and... [hosts] are not trained in conflict reporting or moderation....[T]his [training] was [felt to be] a priority.

  4. [L]ocal language stations appear to have been playing an important role in calming tension and promoting dialogue. A strengthening of such a role... will form a critical contribution.

  5. Training... remains a major priority, [particularly] training talk show hosts and others engaged in facilitating public debate. Training [journalists] on conflict reporting [is] now consider[ed]... an urgent need.

  6. [A] debate [on media policy and regulatory environment] should be encouraged, and particular attention could usefully be focused on a public interest approach to broadcasting and media.

  7. Media monitoring by civil society and research organisations has done a good deal to discourage the broadcast of hate speech by media organisations. Such monitoring is currently haphazard and could be more systematic and better supported.

Community media has... emerged with great credit [in calming the violence] and arguably provides a model for the future. It requires better, more strategic engagement and support in Kenya and elsewhere. This support is partly a question of policy engagement, partly one of financial, funding and sustainability models.

The poor remuneration, status and safety of journalists is hampering a free and plural media. Substantial progress in strengthening the media will not be possible unless the working conditions of journalists are improved.

There is no independent public service broadcaster in Kenya. If there is a debate and a move in the country to transform [a station] ... into one, it could usefully be intensively supported.

Kenya faces the most important public debate in its history. The media will be central to its character, conduct and its outcome. An inclusive and balanced debate may need financial support.

Coordination, information sharing and long term strategic planning of media support within Kenya could be substantially improved, including in ensuring that external media support is both demand led and strategically coherent. Much capacity building of media over recent years has been donor led (focused for example on specific health or other issues) rather than addressing the core challenges facing media in Kenya."

The document's overall conclusion is that "[t]he role of the media in Kenya's crisis was entirely preventable, and had it been prevented, the violence itself may well have been much more limited. Its role in the future may be critical in the reconciliation and restoration of democratic legitimacy in the months and years ahead."

For an expanded summary and to access the full text click here