Electoral debates are drawing viewers back to local stations, driving up ratings for different media houses which have been working together to produce them. At the same time, a storm rages over the debates with candidates and viewers among those casting aspersions on everything from the media’s credibility and biases to the choice and tone of presenters.
The Nairobi gubernatorial debate on Monday night, 12 July was the latest display of the massive public interest in debates ahead of the general elections in 2022. Social media chatter offered an indicator of popularity, with official hashtags attracting thousands of reaction tweets and starting heated online debates. After the debate, acres of media spaces were dedicated to analyzing the candidates’ performances.
It was a two-tier debate with the section featuring the highest polling candidates, UDA’s Johnson Igathe and Azimio’s Polycarp Igathe, scheduled for prime time. The main hosts for the debate were NTV’s Mark Masai and KTN News’ Zubeida Koome. Sakaja showed up 20 minutes late. His interactions with Koome went viral as the two sparred, seemingly losing patience with each other as they traded barbs.
The Presidential and Deputy Presidential debates promise to attract even more eyeballs. They are, however, marred in controversy.
“While the face-off between Deputy President William Ruto and Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga will no doubt be the main event, the duel between their respective deputies could be just as captivating for a number of factors,” veteran journalist Macharia Gaitho observed for Kenya Editors’ Guild.
Deputy President William Ruto, who had earlier been advised by his secretariat not to take part in the debate, changed his stance in his July 7 townhall interview with KTN News. He stated that they would consider it and make a decision, leaving the door open to his participation.
Ruto, however, maintained that the media was biased against him, citing Media Council of Kenya (MCK) data indicating that he got significantly less coverage compares to his rival for the Presidency, Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition candidate Raila Odinga.
He gave the example of Roots Party candidate George Wajackoyah who launched his manifesto on the same night as him on June 30, claiming it was a calculated move to split media attention.
“I want to be respectful to other candidates but a fellow (Wajackoyah) was parachuted so that we share the screens. I mean…which again speaks to the narrative of a biased media so the media needs to interrogate itself,” he stated.
“I’m not saying this out of the blues. I’m not saying give us unfair coverage I’m just saying be fair to all of us,” Ruto added.
Ruto’s supporters have taken to social media to argue on whether or not he should show up for the debate, with many reiterating his allegations on media bias. Some have argued, however that an appearance offered a chance to make his case.
Nonetheless, Ruto has featured prominently on promos being aired across all major stations ahead of the debate scheduled for July 26.