Objectivity, sycophancy, and the reality of Kenyan media

Objectivity, sycophancy, and the reality of Kenyan media

By Ekesa Austin

I begin by associating myself with the findings of a research report titled Strengthening Kenyan Media: Exploring a Path Towards Journalism in the Public Interest, published by Omidyar Networks. According to the report, some media organisations in Kenya have political entanglements that influence their independence. The report states that dominant media organisations belong to “a politician, a close party affiliate or a business person with commercial interests that depend on politicians’ good graces”. We must regulate and ensure that media conform to the established norms during and after the electioneering period.

R.M Entman defines bias in the media as “the degree to which a single news construction favours one ideology, interest, group, issue stand, or individuals against opponents”. Bias in the media manifests itself through gatekeeping (selecting stories from one party or the other), coverage bias (the amount of coverage each party receives), and statement bias (how favourable the coverage of parties is). In the United States, for example, it is a fact that Fox News has a negative bias toward Democratic politicians. In contrast, CNN and The New York Times are more likely to cover Republicans negatively.

Recent confession by Rupert Murdoch, in which he admitted in a deposition that several hosts for his networks promoted the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump and that he could have stopped them but did not, goes a long way toward demonstrating how media owners’ political views influence media impartiality. 

Role of the media in Kenya’s democratic space

For a long time, the media has criticized the state’s violation of press rights under Articles 34 and 35. Article 34 of the Constitution guarantees media freedom. According to Article 34 (3), broadcasting and other electronic media have establishment freedom subject only to licensing procedures. Article 35 ensures freedom of information. It specifies how information held by the state may be accessed and published. While it is true that there have been attempts to curtail media freedoms in Kenya, the same cannot be said when media abuses the established laws and code of ethics that govern their operation. 

What media code of ethics says

The media is critical in informing the public accurately. This is outlined in the Code of Ethics in Schedule 2 of the Media Act. It is the responsibility of the media to provide accurate and up-to-date information to the public. This includes news, current events, and information about events and issues relevant to people’s lives. Second, the media is critical in educating people about various topics such as science, health, politics, and culture. 

Through documentaries, news features, and other programs, the media can help people understand complex issues and make informed decisions. About the recently concluded election, which of these two key roles can you attribute to the media in the wake of disinformation in the recently concluded General elections?  Is it not true that the media has aided in spreading misinformation concerning the 2022 polls?

The situation as it is

Elections are at the core of what we consider democracy to be. Elections allow people to choose their leaders and have a say in how they are governed, which is a necessary component of democracy. Voting allows citizens to express their views, hold their leaders accountable, and ultimately shape the course of their country. According to democratic theory, the public’s power comes from elections, but to use that power wisely, the public must be aware of the positions of parties and candidates on crucial public policy issues. That is where the media comes in.

In the run-up to the 2022 general elections, Kenya’s mainstream media outlets had a preferred Presidential candidate. From the onset, it was clear that the leading mainstream media supported Azimio coalition Presidential candidate Raila Odinga. This was evident in the amount of prime news time devoted to him, positive coverage and the constant negative portrayal of President William Ruto of the Kenya Kwanza coalition. 

Furthermore, talk shows were carefully crafted to portray William Ruto as corrupt, inept, a master-double speaker, and unfit to lead. On the other hand, Odinga was portrayed as mature, democratic, ‘clean’ and presidential. 

The media was aggressively mentioned in the Krieglar and Waki Commissions to have played an active role in the 2007-2008 post-election violence. It seemed we never learnt. The media stations threw caution to the wind by preaching negative ethnicity by warning members of their communities from electing William Ruto. This was appalling, especially in a country with a history of hotly contested elections, with tensions often running high and incidents of violence. The Media Council, through the complaints commission, was complicit in that it never acted on the complaints raised against these vernacular stations.

Evidence and bias and misinformation after post-2022 Elections

Following the new administration’s declaration and subsequent assumption of office, the Azimio coalition party has yet to accept the majority of Kenyans’ decision. To date, the former PM believes that his victory was stolen. In addition, the former PM has been making serious criminal pronouncements. For example, he has confessed to having hired a “ethical hacker” who gave him crucial data to prove his victory was stolen. In addition, he has allegedly gotten a “dossier” from an alleged “whistleblower”, proving he won the election. Recently, in an interview on KTN News, the former PM alleged that he went through the call logs of the Supreme court judges and that he knew whom they were in communication with.

Silence by the media

None of the media stations has put him to task for the spurious allegations he continues to make. Instead, the media has been a fertile ground to spread the baseless allegation. The media’s uninspiring approach only strengthens celebrated author Rasna Warah’s assertion in her ‘Op-ed Manufacturing Non-Dissent: Is Kenya’s Media Really Free?’ published in The Elephant. 

Warah argues that while the international community lauds Kenya as one of Africa’s freest media environments, this is only partially true. Even after the elections, the media is yet to come to terms with the fact that their candidate lost the elections. To date, they still water the distorted assertion by the Azimio head that he was rigged out.


In modern government arrangements, particularly in democratic politics such as ours, there are three branches of government: the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. While it has always been limited to the government, the media owes it to the public to bring the opposition to account. 

Indeed, the press remains the realm’s fourth estate, the nation’s watchdog and conscience. It is the organ in charge of informing the public about the executive, legislature, judiciary, and opposition activities. This will be most effective if the media reports objectively and truthfully. Picking sides and appearing to favour one political party undermines the trust placed in this solemn arm. 

Kenyan media must deliver unbiased news that fairly represents different points of view in a country where extreme opinions, bias, and misinformation are more prevalent than ever. (

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