As I listened to one of the popular radio stations in the morning, the presenter asked listeners if they supported the call for the postponement of next year’s elections.
The ensuing comments were not good; some bordered on incitement. Let the radio presenters desist from asking sensitive questions. They could have taken sides and that is very dangerous during the electioneering period.
Kenya has relatively free media. This includes radio stations that broadcast in local languages and which gives the majority of Kenyans access to news, education and entertainment.
Radio, like other media, is useful for the growth and development of the community and country. For example, it provides health awareness, education, weather, farming, politics and information.
Effective, balanced journalism can help to calm public discourse. However, radio is a double-edged sword. Despite its benefits, it can be used for negative purposes that, for example, can undermine social cohesion and encourage violence by propagating messages of intolerance and disinformation that have the tendency to manipulate the public to resort to violence.
Hate speech and the fanning of ethnic discord was linked with the deadly violence that followed the disputed 2007 General Election that left 1,330 dead and over 600,000 displaced. Further afield, a Rwandan radio station allied to top leaders in government incited ordinary citizens against one another, leaving over a million people dead. Sadly, the station had many listeners.
That is testimony to the efficacy of hate propaganda as a tool in politicians’ arsenal. There is little to deter its use again. But while hate speech culprits are rarely successfully prosecuted as cases either drag on or are dropped, often for political reasons, successful propagandists become valuable instruments for political leaders.
Let radio stations preach peace, tranquillity and cohesion among communities, not division.