Monday, 23 Dec 2013

Citizen Watchdogs Keep Media in Check

Between November 2012 and April 2013 in Kenya, fifty young monitors noted incidents of inflammatory speech broadcast by five radio stations in politically sensitive areas. These included public broadcaster KBC Idhaa ya Taifa, three vernacular radio stations, and one Swahili broadcaster based in the coastal region.

The findings, documented in the Citizen Watchdog Report recently released by Internews in Kenya, showed a sharp decline in cases of dangerous speech documented over the six month period on the monitored stations: from 20 in November 2012 to zero in April 2013. It was also evident from the findings that incidents of reporter bias fell from 32% in November 2012 to 3% in April 2013.

The improvement was due to proactive engagement by Internews with the radio station managers that included important feedback from listeners. The radio stations developed mechanisms over the six months to counter offensive speech; in the case of offensive callers, talk show hosts cut them off. Some also warned listeners before the start of on-air programmes that hate messages would not be tolerated.

“We produced six monthly monitoring reports that were disseminated to the monitored radio stations,” said Brice Rambaud, Democracy & Governance program director at Internews in Kenya. “Findings from the reports supported constructive discussions with editors and program managers on the way they were covering the electoral process and handling political talk shows.”

The Citizen Watchdog exercise was part of Internews’ elections media training program, Free and Fair Media and was implemented to check incidents of hate speech and dangerous speech on air in the run-up to the March 4, 2013 General Election, during the election, and afterwards.

Nicola Harford and Gordon Adam of iMedia, an inter­na­tional media devel­op­ment and communic­a­tions company, evaluated the Free and Fair Media project in September 2013. Their report stated that, “[The Citizen Watchdog activity] not only generated data on transgressions of law on dangerous speech and violations of the media code of conduct and principles of good journalism, but provided a platform for engagement with the offending parties, leading to reductions in instances of hate and offensive speech, detectable changes in practice and improvements in output.”

The report also points out that, “The monitoring and feedback process also appeared to influence other aspects such as the participation of women in news reporting and hosting talk shows.”

The data was collected through questionnaires on the Open Data Kit (ODK) phone application, uploaded and then analyzed. Monitors also had face to face discussions.

“The use of smartphones to monitor the stations was a plus,”says Edna Ipalei, who coordinated the Citizen Watchdog activity. “It made the monitors’ job easier especially when they had to monitor late night political talk shows; they could listen to these shows from home or from traffic and still fill out the code sheets.

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