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The Kenyan media failed in its job to report fully on the political crisis and violence that followed December's presidential election because it was too busy trying to keep the peace, says a joint fact-finding mission by ARTICLE 19, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and International Media Support (IMS), an organisation helping local media in conflict-affected areas.

Journalists, consumed with calling for peace and reconciliation and criticising the country's politicians as irresponsible, abandoned their watchdog function. They "failed to report the facts, present them to those involved in events and let the public judge the result," the mission report says.

The report says Kenya's media coverage of the poll dispute that nearly plunged the country into a civil war and displaced an estimated 500,000 people was muted. "The papers should have set up investigative teams to find out who had won or lost the election" after it was clear the results were rigged, "but they did not for fear of being physically attacked by either the government or the population," says the report.

David Makali, director of IFEX member the Media Institute, based in Nairobi, says one of the media's biggest mistakes was not defying the live broadcasting ban. Rather, journalists resorted to self-censorship, playing down some stories and not reporting others at all, or relaying messages of peace, in some cases on government's orders.

Editors and journalists were inexperienced in reporting on such a crisis, the report says, and the government feared they would make the situation worse, alluding to the role the media played in helping to incite the Rwanda genocide.

The three organisations are urging the government to trust the media more and to help boost its capacity to report on emergency situations, and are appealing to political parties to stop using community radio stations as political tools. They are also calling on the media to review its successes and failures in covering the election and its aftermath, and to train their journalists in investigative reporting.

Read "How far to go? Kenya's media caught in the turmoil of a failed election" here:

(11 March 2008)

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