Lessons from Kenya: Media can't wait for Electoral Commission
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If the results are reliable, why not?
If the results are reliable, why not?


Professor Absalom Muteri, says the media cannot wait for the Electoral Commission to declare its own results in an election if reliable figures are obtained from polling stations.

"If the results are reliable, why not?...Looking at the way it played itself out in Kenya, we caught the Electoral Commission doing mischief and that's what we need to be doing. They've gotten away with it too often, you see. How we manage it down the line thus will be the debate but in full view, we caught them doing mischief."

Professor Muteri, newly appointed Dean of the Africa University College of Communications in Accra and until recently, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Media Council of Kenya, the equivalent of the National Media Commission in Ghana, was speaking with Kwaku Sakyi Addo on Joy FM's Front Page programme to share experiences of the Kenyan election of this year that degenerated into fatal clashes and saw several lost lives, and what lessons Ghana can pick from it.

He said what sparked the electoral violence in Kenya was the Electoral Commission's own declaration of what was to be the official results and a virtual confirmation of figures obtained at polling stations. However what the Commission put out turned out to be at variance with what was expected.

"Well if you are talking about the immediate, as in the spark, I will pinpoint it at that stage where the Electoral Commission of Kenya was announcing the results, you see, and it was live, the whole country was watching on television. They (media) had the results already, and it was announcing them daily as they finished counting at the poll…The spark had to do with disparities in numbers at the Electoral Commission's press conference…that's what sparked the violence and the question being; if media had not been broadcasting live, who knows what might have gotten through without being identified."

He said however, that Ghanaian media, ahead of the December elections, must up their agenda-setting role in putting out the issues that are core to societal discords and unrests rather than wait to be caught in post election side-shows.

Professor Absalom Muteri said in Kenya, the media discovered the issues rather belatedly even though they (issues) played themselves up all the time. Rather than ethnicity, he said "the more fundamental issues had to do with land, disparities in wealth, lack of access to jobs you know, fundamental things like that."

So in that case what could the media have done if the problems that led to the violence were so deep-rooted?

"I think the media could have done a better job of identifying them before the explosion and it could have done a better job of channeling the debate. On the basis of those issues who should we choose in terms of the best candidate for tackling them, Agenda Setting - I think that's where the media's role was most important."

Rather than the core issues, he said what turned out to be the main preoccupation of many media outlets were the events, the conflicts which the media find very newsworthy and political side shows.

He said between the public, media and governments, there will always be suspicions and disagreements on what their true relationships are but the media owed society a duty to allocate more time to developmental issues.

Story by Isaac Yeboah

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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