Propaganda, security and democracy: Kenyan female journalists take on the elections

On Tuesday August 1, the Association of Media Women in Kenya, held a forum on the online harassment of women journalists in Kenya leading to the August 8 elections. The Daily Vox spoke to some female journalists about their experience in election coverage and their hopes for this week’s polls.

Anne Macharia, 23, (K.U. TV)
This is my first time in covering the election. It has not been as easy as I expected but I am happy I am getting to learn and earn experience. What has stood out the most for me in this election is that the race to win State House is unpredictable.

The most difficult thing in covering this election has been dealing with aggressive supporters who have threatened to beat us up because of the station I work for. They think we are affiliated with the government. This almost happened in Garissa, Kibera and Mathare. In terms of online interaction, I have experienced some sort of harassment that forced me to drop my last name because people thought I favour the Jubilee Party. Other than that, my coverage of elections has not played a major role in my use of social media.

On election day, I expect credible results from the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and easy access to the results.

Kenyan journalists have experienced different levels of intimidation and threats in their work, especially when it comes to election coverage. The intimidation against journalist has spread online and is targeting mostly female journalists as according to a report on Women Journalists Safety Online. The report highlights that 75% of respondents have experienced online harassment and a majority of them have had to change how they interact on these spaces or withdraw from using the internet.

Njeri Kimani, 32, (Mail and Guardian correspondent)
This is the second time I am covering the elections. The biggest difference between the previous elections and this is the use of social media. It has changed the way we write and how we rely on the online space for news. We now have to look into how to verify these details available online. I have also had to deal with harassment online, where I was abused by one aspirant for asking him about his business agenda.

The most difficult thing I have had to deal with is the propaganda among the people, especially when it comes to lies from politicians about their opponents. It is difficult to stop them.

All in all, I expect a peaceful and fair election especially since most of the systems to ensure transparency in election are in place.

The spreading of propaganda through through social media and SMS has been an issue in the 2017 Kenyan elections, to the point that the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and the Communications Authority of Kenya have come together to set up guidelines for disseminating election messages and campaigns. They are also monitoring social media for any type of hate speech and incitement over the election period.

Brygettes Ngana, 27, (NTV, South Rift reporter)
It is my first time covering the elections and I expected the campaigns to be aggressive and colourful but it seems rather dull. It lacks the fanfare seen in previous campaigns. The economy is down; most candidates from Nakuru, where I am based, are doing low-key campaigns, and there is a sense that we do not have that election mood just days before the polls.

I cover a region that was affected by the 2007/08 post-election violence, and there is a growing sense of fear in the public that there might be a repeat of the chaos witnessed then.

In terms of challenges, the physical strain of running after the presidential motorcade is also something that I have learnt to adapt to and adjust. I am a single mom and the campaigns have seen me being out of the house most times. I miss bonding with the children but I always do my best to make the most of the time I have with the kids.

On election day, I expect to exercise my democratic right as a Kenyan and vote, and second as a journalist exercise my duties professionally avoiding anything that might trigger any conflict. I have a responsibility to ensure this country remains peaceful, whoever wins the elections.

The disputed election results at the end of 2007 led to an outbreak of chaos and violence across the country. There have been fears that the election violence could repeat itself, especially in light of the leaflets being distributed in towns like Nakuru and Naivasha to force some communities to leave. Women from informal settlements in Nairobi have also raised concerns over violence in the city.

On August 2, Interior Security Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi assured Kenyans that security apparatus are in place ahead of the elections and that Kenyans should focus on casting their vote in a peaceful manner.

Featured image via Flickr