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Comms 254

Political advertising is just one form of manipulation through media

It is critical that the government recruits experts to discern information broadcasted by the mushrooming vernacular stations



Kenyans watch national television in Nairobi, as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, addresses the nation. There is need to interrogate the subliminal messages that are broadcast or published using covert manipulative strategies.

It is the political season in Kenya. This five-year cycle comes with its fair share of shenanigans, not to mention the usual tension due to heightened political temperatures. But somehow we manage. It is only during the controversial 2007 General Election that the nation actually stood on the precipice due to the subsequent deadly violence that led to over 1,000 deaths.

Now, whether we learnt our lessons or not is still a matter of conjecture. However, our politicians are still wont to make inflammatory statements that border on treason. Luckily, citizens are maturing faster politically than their leaders. People seem to be gradually internalizing the fact that their lives are not worth putting on the line for the eventual selfish interests of an individual.

Various reports produced by various players in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 post-election violence, including The Independent Review Commission by South Africa Justice Johann Kriegler and the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, pointed at the media as one of the igniting factors of the clashes. That is how Joshua arap Sang, then working as a KASS FM presenter, ended up at the International Criminal Court at The Hague as one of the top six culprits. He was accused of using coded vernacular to direct organized goons to their victims in the then Rift Valley Province.

This necessitated the government, through the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), to come up with a code of ethics aimed at regulating political advertising in both print and electronic media. The MCK Guidelines for Election Coverage (March 2017), which was compiled and revised by a team of local media practitioners, contains a raft of 21 rules for those planning to use the media to formally propagate their political ideologies.

Representatives of mainstream media houses signed the document committing themselves to the guidelines as appertains to rights and responsibilities, harm and offence, content and formats, and implementation. Newspapers went further to customize the guidelines and are now publishing them regularly as a guide to purveyors of political messages. Of course, electronic media stations are also following the same rules.

This is quite a noble initiative. Basically, the guidelines are based on taste, decency, professionalism, and the whole ethical sphere. It is about taking care of the small things that can escalate and blow out of proportion, and their meaning and objectives abused or misconstrued.

But for the political advertising guidelines to be effective, they must be girded by strong journalism ethics. Students of media and public relations will tell you that editorials and placement are more lethal than paid for advertisements or infomercials. A nuanced news item can have more impact than a direct message, as the former is seen as more credible due to the implication it is devoid of any commercial considerations.

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Journalism has the ability to pass subtle messages through the use of imagery and idioms. This is more pronounced in vernacular media, especially radio and TV. It is, therefore, critical that the government recruits experts to discern commentaries and news items broadcasted by the mushrooming vernacular stations.

Already, there are a couple of international development partners who have started programs to monitor and analyse political content being published and broadcasted in our media houses. Although there are no official results released yet from these programs, indications are that some media houses are, either deliberately or inadvertently, carrying hate speech in their programming during this electoral period.

People who plan to create and spread chaos will always target the mass audience for indoctrination. Look at countries where genocide has taken place. In Germany, for example, Fuhrer Adolf Hitler was adept at demagoguery, which passed on to the people as factual information on the reasons of their poor plight. When he started the pogroms against the Jews, the German society simply cheered him on.

Maize flour ad has negative meaning

May be I am also reading too much into some electronic media commercials, which I find tinged with political messages. It simply sounds as our normal ethnic stereotyping, characterized by our lingual and behavioural idiosyncrasies. One of these is a TV commercial advertising a brand of maize meal. Its two protagonists come from Rift Valley and Western provinces.

The message revolves around the selfishness of the Western gentleman, who lies to his friend from the Rift (a neighbouring province), that he is not in his house during lunch time so that he does not share his big mound of ugali. The ad implies that the former is mean and a liar. There are different ways you could read this ad politically, none of them positive.

Therefore, political advertising is not as overt as it appears. There is need to interrogate the subliminal messages that are broadcast or published using covert manipulative strategies. Media authorities need to employ the services of psychologists to bring out such messaging in various media channels.


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Stephen Ndegwa is an experienced media practitioner specializing in thought leadership. He has written for various media houses and publications, both locally and abroad. Ndegwa is also a strategic communication expert, with skills across the public relations and marketing mix. He is an author, blogger, poet and university lecturer in communication. Email: [email protected] FB: Stephen Ndegwa Twitter: @Ndegwasm

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Comms 254

Equifax hack raises pertinent questions on safety of personal data

Even without hacking, credit card skimming is still big business for cyber criminals.



ICT experts advise consumers to be proactive in securing their personal or credit activities and online information.

It is something that we do on an almost daily basis. We fill in online forms for various purposes. In today’s digital world, we are always online paying bills, applying for jobs and other career opportunities, purchasing various goods and services and so on.

According to the Communications Authority of Kenya, the data/internet market in Kenya has been growing steadily following increased demand for Internet services and reduced cost of Internet enabled devices. In the third quarter of the year 2015/2016, the country registered a growth of 8.5 percent in internet/data subscriptions to stand at 21.6 million up from 19.9 million subscriptions recorded in the previous quarter. Subsequently, the number of estimated internet/data users grew by 7.8 percent to stand at 31.9 million users.

We do not have a choice, really! For example, the Kenya Government’s eCitizen portal is now the only avenue through which you can access certain services in the public sector. From your date of birth, family history, education background and finances, it is now all online. Depending on the diversity and extent of one’s activities, your whole life history is scattered all over the Internet in the form of data.

While many organizations promise confidentiality and non-disclosure of their clients online private data, the danger that the latter can easily fall into the wrong hands is real. For instance, banks in Kenya are losing billions of shillings every year through online banking fraud, usually perpetuated by insiders. The same goes for insurance companies.

Indeed, you should be very afraid. Equifax, one of America’s three major credit reporting agencies, mid this year was a victim of a security breach that exposed, and potentially compromised, personal credit information on millions of subscribers. It was discovered that hackers broke into Equifax and accessed consumer data for 143 million Americans.

READ: How hackers can access your Whatsapp and Telegram account

The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. And they also grabbed personal information of people in the UK and Canada.

Analysts observed that the hack was a goldmine for fraudsters, who could use the massive amount of social security numbers and financial account information to defraud account holders, including stealing medical identity.  Sadly, according to Equifax, the breach went on unnoticed for six weeks, from mid-May through July, 2017.

According to media reports, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey called Equifax’s breach “the most brazen failure to protect consumer data we have ever seen.”

Several other states and the Federal Trade Commission said they had opened investigations into the matter. Members of Congress also demanded criminal investigations and a full accounting of what happened.

Let us think of a local scenario. Imagine someone hacking into the server of the Kenya Revenue Authority or the National Social Security Fund. These are some of the databases where you expect to find personal data of millions of Kenyans, especially financial and social, respectively. An expert information and communication technology expert can easily manipulate this data and siphon a lot of people’s money for his benefit.

Worse still, consider someone hacking into the database of one of the leading credit card companies in the country like Barclaycard or Kenya Commercial Bank. Such a person can duplicate the credit accounts of thousands of people, and make purchases that the genuine account holders are unaware of. Even without hacking, credit card skimming is still big business for cyber criminals.

SEE ALSO: Annual judgement day for PR industry

Kenya is a high risk country for this kind of diabolical schemes. There are a few cases of Kenyans in the diaspora, particularly in America and the United Kingdom, who have been arrested and prosecuted for siphoning social security and pension funds from their legit beneficiaries. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before the chickens come home to roost, if you know what am saying!

Kenya’s Data Protection Bill has been pending enactment for a few years now. The Bill provides for protection of personal information by enforcing the constitutional right of a person not to have information relating to their family or private affairs unnecessarily required or revealed. It embraces the principles of data protection such as necessity of collecting information, data subjects’ right to access information about them, and obligation to ensure information is accurate, updated and complete.

Constant monitoring

One of the biggest nuisances in the country is companies selling their online databases to marketing firms. Many people can attest to receiving a text message from a pitching for a product or service, and wondering how the company got your name and number. Unfortunately, you cannot trace the genesis of this kind of leak. Even if you did, suing them for breaching confidentiality clauses would be impractical.

Ultimately, ICT experts advise consumers to be proactive in securing their personal or credit activities and online information. This includes constantly monitoring their accounts for unusual activity. Red flags on fraud or identity theft include incorrect personal information on one’s credit report, and inquiries from companies one has never contacted.

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Comms 254

17th annual judgement of the PR industry

Entries are open to members and non-members from business enterprises, associations, private and government bodies, and students pursuing PR studies



The comprehensive awards seek to create a platform that showcases leadership, service and knowledge in the industry.

The Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) has released timelines for entries for the 2017 PRSK Awards for Excellence. According to a press release from the industry’s body, the awards ceremony will be held on 17th November, 2017. This is the 17th year since the awards were established in the year 2000.

There are 13 categories for the awards. These include Consumer Relations Campaign of the Year; Crisis and Reputation Management; Financial Communication Campaign; Internal Communication Campaign of the Year; Media Relations Campaign of the Year; Public Affairs Campaign of the Year; PR Event of the Year; Social Investment Campaign of the Year; Public Sector Campaign of theYear; New Media PR Campaign of the year; Not for profit campaign of the year; Best Corporate Publication and; Young Communicator of the year.

There are also two honorary awards. These are the PR Golden Honors Award (PR hall of fame given to an individual) and the PR Shepherd Honors Award (recognizes organizational support given to the PR industry).

Entries are open to members and non-members from business enterprises, associations, private and government bodies, and students pursuing PR studies. The awards reflect the level of competitive services offered in the Kenya PR and communications industry.

READ: Young practitioners take over PRSK leadership
SEE ALSO: PR industry needs thorough cleaning
READ: PR and marketing pays better than sales

The comprehensive awards also seek to create a platform that showcases leadership, service and knowledge in the industry. Basically, it is all about promoting the practice of PR in the country by setting certain benchmarks. Therefore, it is expected that current entries should show a marked improvement or shift from the previous years.

Every year, unfortunately, the awards do not end without controversy, amidst accusations that the winners and judges belong to certain cliques or cartels. This would be extremely unfortunate, even if there was an iota of truth in it. It would be a great disservice to creating an environment where genius of innovation and creativity is recognized, regardless of where it emanates.

Further, PRSK must aggressively seek sponsorship for the awards in order to make submission of entries free. The high charges in entering various categories may be a deterrent in attracting individuals and organizations that have great potential. Meaning that only those with the money, no matter how uninspiring, might see the light of day!

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Comms 254

Give us more vibrant media interviews

Some journalists ask questions based on their personal political preferences, inclinations or bias using dichotomies that leave little or no room for objectivity. (SCROLL DOWN TO READ ARTICLE)



Deputy President William Ruto was recently hosted on Citizen TV by Hussein Mohamed. The cross-examination of issues during interview is often flimsy, with a lot of emphasis placed on presentation and form, rather than substance.

There is a new fad in town. In recent years, Kenyans seem to have discovered the magic power of media exposure. And, with that discovery, every Kamau, Otieno and Mutisya is praying for the day he will get his 10 minutes of fame. It has become a spectacle to behold.

Nowadays, people are using all manner of gimmicks, tricks and stunts to get that all important exposure through trending. It’s anything goes, from eating “githeri” (boiled mixture of maize and beans) from a polythene paper bag while on the voters queue during August 8th election, to raising placards on the streets in search of jobs.

Media interviews have evolved over the last two decades. In times gone by, particularly before liberalization of the media in the early 1990s, broadcast media was exclusively State owned. Only those who towed the line of the ruling Kanu party, or belonged to the apparatchik, had their day in the sun, especially on the single government owned television.

Voice to divergent views

In fact, television interviews on the Voice of Kenya (VoK) were not only few, but highly predictable in terms of messaging. It was about propagating the social, economic and political status quo. But VoK’s rebranding to the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation in preparation for political liberalization in the late 1980s changed things somewhat. The new outfit was required by law to give a voice to divergent views. But we all know that is easier said than done.

READ: Media role in the election fallout

Anyway, the exponential increase of media houses and subsequent expansion of the democratic space resulted in cut-throat competition. Interestingly, the proliferation of media channels has hardly increased the quality of content. Although there are numerous interviews of personalities across the media spectrum (print, broadcast and electronic), there is very little light emanating from these forums.

It is like a cacophony! Am not saying that many of the interviewees are just noise. But there is a problem either with the way interviewers present issues to them, or the honesty with which they (interviewees) field the questions.

Basically, media houses should restructure this news segment if it is going to bring about the much needed thought leadership in our society. I do not like to constantly compare things, but then how else would we benchmark our performance? For instance, let us take CNN, the self-touted world news leader. It is always a refreshing and enlightening experience watching the experts they interview.

Lately, I have been following CNN’s coverage of Hurricane Irma, which hit the Florida coast in America on Saturday. All through the coverage of the hurricane’s path, they brought in various experts to explain to their viewers what was really happening. The meteorologists were experts in both theory and practice. They explained the whole concept in such a way that you could “see” and “feel” the hurricane.

SEE: Rise of Githeri man and the state of advertising in Kenya

The closest we have witnessed such a devastating weather phenomenon is El Nino. Very few Kenyans, even the educated, can explain El Nino’s cause and effect. This is because the interviews conducted as part of general awareness during such crisis are not structured in a way that they dissect and demystify the issues accordingly.

The problem with interviewing

So, what generally ails interviewing in the Kenyan media? First, interviews in most media houses lack interrogation and depth. This is why interviewees sound the same across the board. The cross-examination of issues is flimsy, with a lot of emphasis placed on presentation and form, rather than substance.

The above is a by-product of the poor interviewing skills of our journalists. Even some of the most popular names on TV have often been criticized for mishandling interviews by bringing their emotions or prejudices into the picture. Their combativeness puts interviewees on the defensive, thus limiting a full debrief of the topic or topics being discussed.

Political interviews are indeed the worst. Some journalists ask questions based on their personal political preferences, inclinations or bias, using dichotomies that leave little or no room for objectivity. Some are interviewers are especially notorious for having heated exchanges with guests in an apparent clash or contest of ideas.

READ: Rise of scandal news and death of investigative reporting

Further, some interviewers are short of even the basics. They have inferior language skills, which is sometimes worsened by mother tongue inflections in their diction. It is not about using the Queen’s English here, but speaking in an eloquent manner that can communicate with people of different linguistic orientations.

As noted earlier, everyone today is a wannabe analyst, or expert in something. This political year has especially had its fair share of “fake” analysts telling us the obvious. But this is not to say that we should have the same people on TV. The media just needs to cast their nets wider and invite people with requisite credentials, even if they have to cater for the expenses of flying them to the city from far flung areas.

Ultimately, the media needs to restructure the concept of interviews to make them more vibrant, educational and engaging. Interviewers should take a back seat and let the issues being discussed come alive. It’s about being a teacher; not a star!

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Comms 254

Did media abet and escalate trust issues in the General Election?

The media must undergo intensive training by constitutional and electoral experts on what to discern in this novel process.



President Uhuru Kenyatta receives his election certificate after being declared winner of the August 8th presidential elections. His victory was later annulled by the Supreme Court of Kenya, citing irregularities and illegalities.

Kenya has gone through one of its most strenuous elections yet. On August 8th this year, the country’s citizens came out, all and sundry, to vote for political parties and candidates of their choice. It was the culmination of months of our heated campaigns.

Like in all previous elections, truth was the biggest casualty this time round. Prior to the polls, the ruling Jubilee Party, and the opposing National Super Alliance, were engaged in a duel of misinformation, outright lies and the now ubiquitous fake news. The more the news sounded stranger than fiction, the more believable it was.

Apparently, both sides of the political divide employed “professional” propagandists who, I must say, did an impressive job. Really! The wars on both digital and electronic media were ruthless. The fake news, particularly in the former channel, was perfectly choreographed, duping many intelligent people to believing made up stories.

My foregoing sentiments seem to be supported by a recent report released by the European Union’s Election Observation Mission for Kenya. According to the preliminary statement titled, “Democratic commitment demonstrated by the people of Kenya, despite parties forceful criticism of key institutions”, there was a high number of well-produced false news items distributed on social media by political camps, targeting political rivals.

Due to a strict regulatory regime in the mainstream media, the war on misinformation shifted to social media. The ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter were awash with reports that, though stranger than fiction, appeared to have credence with a sizable following. The plausibility of such reports was determined by one’s standing on the political divide.

READ: Branding lessons from Githeri Man’s sudden rise?

Due to lack of specifics, guidelines on the use of social media by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) circulated in mid and late June, and later improved and released on July 13th, were largely ignored. The guidelines included requirements for “honesty and accuracy” in publications, and for providers to avoid “undesirable political content”.

States the report: “Social media provided important platforms for the exchange of information about the elections, but also appeared to reinforce inflammatory messages during the campaign. Social media provided important platforms for the exchange of information about the elections. A high number of well-produced false news materials was distributed on social media, reportedly in part by political campaigns to delegitimize political rivals”.

Moreover, inflammatory messages from political rallies were reinforced by party supporters through social media. Although violence did not feature prominently, journalists cited the need for self-censorship during the election period.

Journalists also put limits on what they could say, as many worked for media houses with links to the political class.

On advertising, the report alleges the government used a carrot and stick stratagem to give undue advantage to government, or Jubilee friendly media. This was obviously manipulative since the threat of loss of revenue could have made some media less critical or independent than would otherwise be the case. Further, “many media adverts promoting the President’s and government’s successes raised questions about the misuse of public funds to the advantage of the incumbent”.

The EU report says the State, as well as private national media, allocated equitable shares of coverage to the key contestants. However, bias in favour of either of the leading political camps was noted in the vernacular radio stations.


Extensive paid media campaigns promoting successes of incumbents raised concerns about incumbent advantage. Journalists in several counties were threatened in connection with their reporting on political or election-related matters and stated that they commonly exercised self-censorship.

Concerns were also raised whether the country has effective data protection laws. This was due to suspicion that the government could have had gained unfettered access to citizen information through State institutions to help it profile its audiences.

Essentially, the media gave the bulk of coverage to the two main contestants due to the lack of wherewithal by the lesser ones. It was also unfortunate that the highly anticipated presidential debate did not take place, effectively denying voters an opportunity to compare the candidates.

SEE ALSO: Why investigative reporting is dying in Kenya

My findings point to a more cautious mainstream media. This was as a result of a lot of training, particularly by the Media Council of Kenya, and threats of sanctions by a tough talking CA. No journalist wanted to trespass against the regulations and guidelines for electoral reporting.

But there is more work to be done. On September 1st, the Supreme Court of Kenya ruled that the presidential poll did not pass the strict integrity test. Consequently, the court ordered a repeat of the poll by November 1st.

This means that the media are back on the drawing board. Being an unprecedented event, not just in Kenya, but in the whole of Africa, the learning curve is long. The media must undergo intensive training by constitutional and electoral experts on what to discern in this novel process.

Misinformation will now happen out of omission, and not commission. With over 200 television and radio stations, including numerous daily and weekly publications, the onerous task of media monitors is cut out. They need to start early in order to have a grip of the current, emerging and expected issues.

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