With an article at Reuter’s AlertNet, Joanne Tomkinson from Oxfam followed up the issue of the responsibility of local Kenyan radio stations in inciting ethnic hatred before and after the general election. We previously reported about the role of Kenya’s media in our article: Eyes on the Media in Kenya; Kenya’s Wolf in Sheep skin or her redemption?
MEDIAWATCH: Kenyan media inciting ethnic hatred
Written by: Joanne Tomkinson
Messages of hate aired on radio stations and the internet are partly to blame for the post-election bloodshed in Kenya. There are worrying echoes of the Rwandan genocide when local radio stations urging people to “kill the Inkotanyi [cockroaches]” were widely thought to have contributed to the slaughter of 800,000 people in 1994.
Kenya has been convulsed by bloodshed since President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed re-election at the end of December. More than 1,000 people have been killed and an estimated 300,000 people have fled their homes.
Even before the election, many radio stations broadcasting in Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin languages were airing inflammatory comments about members of other communities, according to the Inter Press Service (IPS), a global news agency.
“The ethnic hate our radio station was propagating about those from outside the community was unbelievable,” one Kenyan journalist told the IPS.
David Ochami, a commissioner with the Media Council of Kenya, says that long before the elections radio stations were inciting ethnic consciousness “making people support leaders from their own tribe and harbour bad feelings about people from other communities“.
Call-in shows have provided a very vocal platform for “hate speech”, as callers are not always vetted before being put on air, writes the IPS.
Insults of “baboons”, “weeds” and “animals of the west” are common and though comments rarely call for violence, they do often draw on cultural differences and long-standing disputes about access to land, according to Caesar Handa of Strategic Research, an organisation monitoring the airwaves after the election.
The chilling power of these comments is very worrying in a country where many people trust their local stations and take what they broadcast as the truth, Handa says in Kenyan newspaper The Nation. The Mashada forum, an online chatroom, has been forced to close due to the large number of inflammatory messages posted on its pages.
“Facilitating civil discussions and debates has become virtually impossible,” he writes.
By banning all live political broadcasts after the election, the government forced many people to turn to radio stations and internet sites to get updates, according to Eyes on Kenya, a non-governmental organisation analysing events in the country.
Such is the power of these stations, they “should be closed with immediate effect,” writes the Eyes on Kenya commentator.
But the problems with the Kenyan media go beyond call-in shows and chatrooms.
Although he praises the courage of many Kenyan journalists, Antony Otieno Ong’ayo, a researcher at political think tank Transnational Institute, says the local media is prone to partisan reporting in its news coverage.
Writing for Pambazuka, a pan African news site, Ong’ayo says that media owners, blog sites, and local newspapers have failed to be open about the other reasons for the violence – poverty, inequality, corruption and unequal distribution of resources.
“Such bias will direct attention in the wrong direction, and could be used to gang up against other communities,” Ong’ayo says.
International coverage of the violence comes in for similar criticism from Kenya expert, David Anderson, an Oxford University professor. The media’s focus on inter-tribal violence doesn’t tell the whole story, he tells Reuters.
“Describing it as ethnic violence is not quite right. This is political violence of the most classic kind. Ethnicity is how you mobilise it: that’s the modus operandi, not the rationale.“
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