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Why the role of the media is so important to free and fair elections in Africa

This means that that these new platforms are inaccessible to the masses.

Traditional media – particularly radio – therefore remain an important platform for public engagement.

At election time, these kinds of legacy media formats are critical in enabling the public to make informed choices.

Elections in Africa are fiercely fought because the state is seen as a resource.

Winning elections makes accessing the state possible, usually to the exclusion of those who lose.

Because the stakes are so high, when people lose faith in the credibility of an election some resort to violence.

This was the case in Kenya following the disputed 2007-2008 elections.

This led to post-election violence.

Over 1000 people lost their lives, 600 000 were displaced and property worth millions of Kenyan shillings was destroyed.

This August, Kenya goes to the polls again in what’s expected to be another bruising political context.

For the country’s news media, the coverage of these elections will be extremely challenging.

The last elections held in 2013 were largely peaceful even if the outcome of the presidential tally was disputed.

The peaceful elections, which were fought with as much passion as the disputed 2007 poll, didn’t happen that way by accident.

The Kenyan media adopted a new approach in 2013 after having been accused of contributing to the violence that engulfed the country in the aftermath of the 2007 elections.

“Peace” journalism was uniformly adopted by all mainstream media.

Controversial stories were not covered.

Meanwhile, reference to politicians’ ethnic identities was avoided in media coverage.

Ethnicity remains an important characteristic of political competition in Kenya hence the sensitivity to ethnic markers of identity.

But “peace” journalism remains controversial and the Kenyan media was widely criticised for adopting it.

Many argue that focusing on peace at the expense of the credibility of the elections, ignoring for example numerous electoral anomalies, was a case of self-censorship.

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