Every election has its bogeyman
We have been joined in that unhappy spot by Royal Media Services (RMS). Together, we are accused by the UDA/Kenya Kwanza Alliance camp of bias and supporting Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party. Similar allegations of bias have been levelled against the Nation Media Group in nearly every election and we have learnt to take them absolutely seriously.
In the case of RMS, the allegation probably arises from the fact that its proprietor, the wily S.K. Macharia, makes no secret, or bones, about the fact that Azimio candidate and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the presumed front runner in the presidential race, if the Infotrak Harris poll of this week is to be trusted, is his bosom buddy and clear choice. In our case, there are two possibilities. First, there is always the danger that we are getting the balance wrong. You can’t outlaw what is in people’s hearts; what you can outlaw is its leakage and contamination of your journalism.
So, are biases in favour of Azimio leaking and contaminating our coverage? We look at our journalism anxiously and we follow the complaints to the Public Editor very keenly. Besides, NMG publications, digital and TV content is reviewed by a reputable university communications department. For us, bias is certain to be detected by an impartial and competent arbiter and referred back for remedy.
Secondly, complaints are always a symptom of broken relations. The complaints by UDA mean the editorial team at Nation and the leadership of that party are not sufficiently in touch. Many of UDA’s think tank members rejected overtures by ourselves to use our election platform to argue the case for their party and to examine the ideas of their opponents. I must say that some agreed, many did not.
I am not saying it is their fault; as a matter of fact, it is our problem. We must do more to improve relations, build bridges and establish if not trust, then at least channels of communication so that the aggrieved know that their complaints will be listened to and taken seriously.
Thirdly, the election is today a lot more competitive and is, inevitably, tightening. The UDA leader, Deputy President William Ruto, is wildly popular in Mt Kenya, for example. But it is equally undeniable that, over the past three weeks, something has changed in that region. What was certain is tending towards the likely; some of the people who swore by him might still support him but not with the same fervent conviction. Because there is an alternative case being argued—they are being assiduously courted by another political force.
The nomination of running mates has also played a part. Azimio nominee Martha Karua was a historic choice—it created a political summer for women, injected a dose of credibility, integrity and energy into the Azimio ticket. It did what a deputy presidential nomination should do, and then some. On the other hand, the nomination of Rigathi Gachagua was wildly popular and inspirational in no part of this country, not even in Mathira, his home ground, where some of the folk speak ill of him. My personal opinion is that Azimio got their candidate right and UDA could have done a much better job. There is a chance that the party could pay a price for it, but that is just my opinion.
This is not to say that Mr Gachagua is total waste. Not at all. He is an outstanding mobiliser and crafty, experienced operator who knows government—and the people who run it—inside out. He is wealthy and presumably willing to spend that money on the UDA cause. To that extent, he is a blessing to UDA. Provided he does not spend too much time at the microphone.
The fourth point is that Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, after taking those who were courting him through a series of heartaches, finally accepted the proposal by Azimio and, by that decision, opened the route to two million-plus Ukambani votes to Mr Odinga. It does not mean, not by a long mile, that all the votes from Machakos, Makueni and Kitui counties, as well as the Kamba spillover in Nairobi, Coast and elsewhere, will follow Mr Musyoka. Not at all. But with almost the entire leadership of Ukambani in Azimio, UDA’s struggle for votes in that part of the country became a lot more difficult.
So what was a coronation-type, shoo-in election has become competitive and tight. A tight, competitive election puts folk on edge. And thus the tendency to express grievances becomes more frequent.
What is to be done? I think first is to remain vigilant, examine our decisions and ensure that truly—to borrow a paraphrase of our editorial policy by our former colleague and Nyaribari Chache parliamentary candidate Eric Obino—there is nothing for or against any story; they are all judged on their own merit.
Lastly, complaints must not condition our coverage against entities we are accused of favouring; we must not disadvantage anyone to conform. Rather, let’s work harder to be fair and balanced and pull all stops in our efforts to improve relations with those dissatisfied with our coverage.