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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

“Resist” campaign puts brand claims to the test

This is a painful lesson in brand building for corporate entities. Your brand is just as strong as your reputation



NASA leader Raila Odinga after buying an Airtel subscriber's line along Koinange Street in Nairobi on Tuesday.

Kenya’s seasonal political shenanigans have now clearly shown that we need to rethink the often touted suggestion that it is possible to divorce politics from economic development. At least, not in Kenya! Since the electoral high fever gripped the nation mid this year, the country has lost over Ksh 700 billion as both the public and private sectors hold back their spending.

I will let the economists tell the rest of the story. For now am more concerned about the so called “Resist” campaign by the National Super Alliance, which recently morphed into the National Resistance Movement (NRM). One of the major pranks of this campaign is the boycott of certain brands (goods and services), allegedly because they abetted a botched presidential election on August 8.

The fledgling NRM has asked, nay, demanded, that its supporters keep off some top brands including Safaricom, Brookside milk, Bidco products and Total service stations. Needless to say, these are top employers and taxpayers in the country, both directly and indirectly.

For starters, this is vengeful and punitive. Secondly, the accused have not been given a chance to publicly defend themselves against the levelled accusations. Thirdly, this move hurts those who have nothing to do with the ongoing political stalemate. But to translate the Swahili saying, when two bulls fight, it is the grass that suffers.

This is a painful lesson in brand building for corporate entities. Your brand is just as strong as your reputation. If I were any of these brands, I would be worried more with whether my house is in order. How have I treated my clients and stakeholders? Do my customers love me enough to stand by me, regardless of such malevolence by my perceived enemies?

READ: Panelists or monelists? The scandal of TV talk shows

How positive is the public relations of the named brands, starting from both customer service and relations, to the management and board? Have the companies made deceptive claims in their advertising campaigns? Have they exploited their customers by taking advantage of their hold on the market or near monopoly status? It is time for soul searching, I guess!

The situation is akin to any successful relationship. For instance, there are spouses who defend their partners amidst damning accusations of infidelity or other impropriety. Even with glaring evidence, the spouses work at staying together by reinforcing their strengths.

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Comms 254

Citizen TV finally receives brand recognition

The widespread impact of Citizen TV on audiences struck me in the mid-2000s when I had a job that entailed travelling to far off places in the country



When Citizen TV first appeared on our screens in 1999, I must confess that I was not impressed. Sorry! May be due to its small beginnings, the station seemed like a hurried job, simply aimed at pampering someone’s bruised ego. It looked like a last ditch effort by its founder Samuel Kamau Macharia, whose previous businesses had been sabotaged by retired President Daniel arap Moi’s government.

But alas, I was wrong! Almost 17 years down the line, the TV station has proved its critics wrong by being the leading broadcasting house in the country, in terms of both reach and revenue. So much such that it was recently named Kenya’s ‘Brand of the Year’ during the fourth edition of the prestigious World Branding Awards held mid this month in London.

Seen as the ultimate global brand recognition accolade, winners of these awards are judged through brand valuation, consumer market research, and public online voting. Seventy percent of the scoring process comes from consumer votes. Citizen TV was ranked among other national winners like Qatar Airways (Qatar), Samsung (South Korea), Adidas (Germany) and Amarula (South Africa).

The widespread impact of Citizen TV on audiences struck me in the mid-2000s when I had a job that entailed travelling to far off places in the country. I remember people watching Citizen TV in the unlikeliest of places in both North Eastern and Nyanza provinces, where the station was already popular barely 10 years after its initial launch.

Related: Jeff Koinange’s huge salary threatens to bring down Citizen TV

Later on it struck me that Citizen TV had managed to shed off its association with ethnicity. Basically, what has grown the station over the years is its localised entertainment shows and innovative news and programming. Citizen has always been a trend setter in Kenya’s broadcasting industry. Its managers have not feared to experiment with new formats and content.

A major lesson in Citizen TV’s win is the need for authenticity in our brands. Rather than copy foreign ideas, our brand managers should strive to create household names that resonate with the local market. Who would have thought that “Papa Shirandula” and “Inspekta Mwala” would have such a massive national following? Good job!

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Comms 254

Brand Kenya takes a beating as political tension escalates

Kenya is fast garnering negative publicity arising from the September 1 Supreme Court decision that ruled the country must go back to the presidential polls in 60 days



For local lovers of soccer, and East Africa as a whole, the month of September ended on a shocker. After two years of anticipation, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) dropped the bombshell. Kenya will not host the Africa Nations Championships (CHAN) 2018, after all. The unfortunate news must also have reverberated globally across the sporting world.

It was not totally unexpected though. According to CAF’s statement, Kenya’s general unpreparedness for the tournament, coupled with the current precarious political climate caused by an ugly electoral standoff, resulted in this unfortunate decision by the premier continent’s soccer governing body.

Kenya is fast garnering negative publicity arising from the September 1, 2017 Supreme Court decision that ruled the country must go back to the presidential polls in 60 days. By a majority, the judges quashed President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election for a second term, citing certain electoral irregularities and technicalities by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

CAF’s devastating news comes in the wake of a gradual dwindling of Kenya’s economic fortunes since the country went into elections campaign mode earlier this year. Although the Central Bank of Kenya has reassured us that the economic fundamentals are still strong to support sustained economic growth, the political undercurrents are threatening to tear this assertion asunder.

Ultimately, what is the import of all these, one may ask? It is about Brand Kenya. Now, think about leading consumer brands in the world like CocaCola, Microsoft, Samsung, Nike, Google, Apple, McDonald’s et al. The common denominator among them is that they do everything possible to protect their image in order to maintain pole position in the market. That is why they dedicate millions of dollars annually in advertising and marketing.

Related: ‘Githeri man’ brand endorsement shows dearth of authenticity in local advertising

But the latter is not sufficient for a brand to sustain global market leadership. Consumers, partners and other stakeholders are always keenly watching the ‘behavior’ of the brand. For instance, a whiff of scandal usually leads to jitters in the stock market, while consumer watchdogs warn of class action to protect consumer rights. That is why no amount of public relations by Kenyan sporting authorities and other leaders could whitewash the fact that our preparedness for CHAN 2018 was mediocre, to say the least!

Imagine Kenya as an international brand, which we are. First, we are well known and feared internationally for our athletic prowess. By default, Kenyan athletes usually win most long distance athletic international meets, both at an individual and national level. Secondly, Kenya is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa. Our weather, wildlife and beaches are a veritable attraction for those seeking where to spend their money in leisure.

Quite often, you come across a foreigner describing Kenyans as warm and friendly. We know of expatriates who have worked in Kenya and found an excuse to stay on. The general good-naturedness of Kenyans is a strong attribute of Brand Kenya and the contents of her ‘soul’. Another aspect that identifies Kenyans is the citizens work ethic and industriousness, both at home and overseas. Our human capital and resource is renowned globally for its high value delivery. That is why various Kenyan professionals are in demand, with individual Kenyans excelling in many fields.

However, let me reiterate that for top brands, perception about their products or services is as crucial as reality. You cannot blow hold and cold at the same time, and expect people to have total confidence in your brand. Therefore, no matter how hard we work at marketing Kenya, our actions as a country must bear the hallmarks of decisive and united action towards meeting our national goals.

Currently, heightened political tension is the notion trending about Kenya. The world is viewing Kenya as a potentially dangerous country for one to visit or do business with. The direction which we are heading does not inspire confidence in those who would like to invest their fortunes on our soil.

In the last five years, Kenya’s reputation index and inspiring force had gained equity, cementing our already growing status as the region’s economic powerhouse. This was both a cause and effect of increasing visits by global leaders like American President Barrack Obama, Pope Francis, Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Facebook Founder CEO Mark Zuckerberg, pop icon Madonna and, recently, Alibaba Group Chinese business magnate Jack Ma. The associated branding voice was settling us square in the global map.

Kenya’s brand equity is critical for both present and future investments. Even as we squabble internally, let us not let water from our dirty linen washing machines to flow into the international arena. We should take a cue from countries like Egypt and Israel who continue to receive millions of tourists every year amidst the perennial dread of terrorist attacks.

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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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