The radio and television workshop on “Conflict-sensitive and responsible journalism” was aimed at enabling Kenyan journalists working for government, privately and community owned radio and television stations to be conflict-sensitive and ethical in their reporting, and refrain from tribal bias.
The media’s role is to act as the guardian of public interest and an independent watchdog, rather than the mouthpiece of a given ethnic group or political party.
Over two weeks of professional training, participants were required to produce attractive, unbiased and conflict-sensitive programmes on the following topics: the International Criminal Court; and the still-to-be-created local tribunal and reconciliation mechanisms.
The workshop was conceived, designed and imparted by Bettina Ambach, with the financial support of the German Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations and the German Federal Foreign Office.
- Media contributing to crisis prevention and peace building
- Promoting democracy, pluralism and freedom of speech
- Raising journalists’ awareness to the dangers of hate speech
- Development of codes of conduct / journalism ethics
- Giving inputs to the peaceful resolution of conflicts without falling back on tribalism
- Competent reporting about the International Criminal Court, a local tribunal and reconciliation mechanisms
- Enhancing radio- and television-production skills.
During the first week, high-profile guest lecturers visited and addressed the workshop participants. After their respective presentations, the guest lecturers were questioned and interviewed by the journalists/participants. The resulting materials became an integral part of the final production of radio and television reports that brought the two-week workshop to a close. Once the workshop has concluded, these programmes were then broadcast through the participants’ respective stations.
- Bettina Ambach, Project Manager, Wayamo Communication Foundation.
- Joseph Roberts-Mensah, Chief of UNMIL Radio (United Nations Mission in Liberia).
- Michael Cowan, television trainer, New York.
- Ute Brucker, Südwestrundfunk TV, Stuttgart.
Fourteen Kenyan radio producers with a minimum of three years’ experience at state-, privately- or community-owned radio stations.
Ten television producers with a minimum of three years’ experience at state- or privately-owned television stations.
In April 2008, the BBC published a report on the role of the media during and after the violence that broke out following the December 2007 elections (BBC World Service Trust Policy Briefing No. 1, April 2008: The Kenyan Election and its Aftermath: the Role of Media and Communication). This report stated that, “the post-election violence demonstrates that a free and plural media are as much an answer to Kenya’s democratic deficit as they are a problem.”
Unfortunately, the media did not always play a positive role during the turmoil. A particularly striking instance of this was provided by some local community radio stations that were broadcasting in vernacular languages, such as Kalenjin and Kikuyu, and disseminating propaganda and hate speech. Some forms of “social media”, such as SMS’:, blogs and emails, also contributed to this mayhem, inasmuch as people were circulating hate messages, whipping up emotions, spreading rumours and prodding violence. According to the above-mentioned BBC report, it was an election, “characterised by misinformation.”
In some instances, media institutions became the mouthpiece of specific political parties and/or ethnic groups. Popular roundtable-discussion and phone-in programmes, both of which are live productions, were turned by certain FM radio stations into platforms for disseminating ethnic prejudice, rumours and falsehoods about politicians on “the other side”. Uncritical repetition of politicians’: speeches further contributed to political being falsely perceived as ethnic problems.
The consequences of this poisoned atmosphere are known: people were bullied and attacked because of their political affiliations or ethnic origins, leading to a final toll of 1,300 deaths and 350,000 homeless.
Tom Bwire works for Pamoja, the community radio station serving Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum with an estimated one million inhabitants, where a lot of riots took place. Critically he says, “We in the media had a role to play in the violence. We were very divided and each media house had its favourite candidate, tribe or party. We allowed people to spread tribalism in our media houses – we should have done something to change this.”
In the wake of the riots, numerous journalists came to their senses after what had seemed like a nightmare and asked themselves, “What have we done? Have we let ourselves be used as propaganda tools by political interest groups? Surely we should have played another role?”
After the traumatic experience of 2007, Kenyans now fear that the next election in 2012 could give rise to an even greater massacre. This is why it is of the utmost importance to analyse what in fact occurred, punish the culprits and think about how to prevent it from happening all over again.
The media can play a vital role in this process. Just as journalists can contribute to an escalation of violence in crisis situations, so can they contribute to reconciliation, understanding and peace. Their work can be destructive or constructive.
Our media project seeks to promote conflict-sensitive journalism. Journalists must understand that in times of crisis they have a dual responsibility: firstly, towards the people about whom they report; and secondly, towards their listeners and readers. They have a duty to report accurately and objectively, expose distortions and half-truths without inciting dissension and hostility, and respect ethical rules and standards of journalism – in other words, they are morally bound to use the media to contribute to crisis prevention and peaceful conflict management.
Topics for the reports to be produced at the end of the workshop
To deal successfully with the aftermath of the post-election violence of 2007, the organisers of this workshop believe that there should be three mechanisms, namely, international criminal investigation and prosecution, a locally constituted tribunal, and reconciliation institutions such as the Truth Commission.
Through their reporting, the media can show the Kenyan public that measures are indeed being taken to ensure that justice will be done. Should the fact-finding process or execution of possible arrest warrants falter in any way, the media can perform its core task of voicing public opinion, drawing up balanced reports and, if necessary, putting pressure on political leaders.
Media practitioners should be keenly aware of the fact that they have it in their power to provoke or prevent conflict. Identifying hate speech is a learning process: it may well start as nothing more than ridicule of “the others”, yet the dividing line between this and incitement to violence is a very fine one. Indeed, under a ruling handed down by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, hate speech is now deemed to be an international crime.