By Patrick Egwu & Ekpali Saint
In this digital age where the ubiquity that the social media platforms afford has made every user a potential reporter, fake news about political issues is daily circulated on social media with incredible speed. As the hankering for news continues to increase, quality and credible reporting, especially during elections, are more significant than ever.
In Kenya, there are fake news websites that deliberately publish news content purporting to be real news. These websites spread political misinformation mainly to push a political narrative or agenda as well as influence people’s views.
A few days to the 2017 general election in Kenya, a study by researchers from the communications consulting firms Portland Africa and GeoPoll, a mobile survey platform, revealed that 90% of Kenyans “have seen or heard false news about the general elections.” Media experts fear this year’s elections may be laced with false information and misleading claims given that fake news is a common concept and part of the media ecosystem.
On August 9, Kenyans will head to the polls to elect new leaders, and reporters will be in the field to give live feeds and file first-hand reports. Below are some tips for reporters covering the forthcoming general elections in Kenya and elsewhere.
Uphold ethical standards
Voters rely largely on mainstream media and journalists for credible and quality reports during elections. This information about political parties and candidates helps them to make informed choices on election day. This shows the importance of the mainstream media. But to file a quality report, reporters must be guided by the profession’s ethical principles and standards such as balance, accuracy, and objectivity. Election reporters must see ethics as a priority because a reporter’s failure to uphold the profession’s code of ethics, can lead to legal issues such as libel and defamation.
Good understanding of electoral laws
It is not enough to know existing election laws. A reporter covering elections must understand the laws guiding elections deeply especially because these laws serve as a road map to electoral processes, how political parties are formed, and who is qualified to run for a political office, among others. Also, a better understanding of election laws will help reporters give interesting background and context in their reports.
Fact-check all information
During election periods, the need for fact-checking becomes even more critical than ever. Reporters covering elections must understand that political parties, candidates, and sometimes supporters, churn out all kinds of statistics just to push a political agenda. But the reporter must always fact-check claims or statements made during campaigns to avoid misleading or feeding the public with false information. Interestingly, there are many websites and online fact-checking tools that newsrooms and reporters covering elections can use to check the authenticity of photos, statements, and statistics before filing their reports. These websites and tools will help tell whether social media posts, quotes, articles and claims are true or false.
You can as well develop a list of reliable experts, institutions, and platforms that fact-check statements. Africa Check and Dubawa are great resources for journalists working in Africa. With a dedicated team of fact-checkers, these outlets work to debunk claims of misinformation at all times on the continent.
Election days are always fraught with risky activities from political and social elements who don’t want their shady dealings exposed. This is why as a reporter, you must be security conscious and monitor all the activity happening around you. You must know how ballots are being transported. You must know the officials who are observing the polling units and those for ballot counting. Most importantly, monitor possible cases of vote buying and party loyalists who may be lurking around to instigate violence.
“Journalists must be sensitive to every kind of activity during elections,” said James Ojo, a journalist at The Cable, who recently covered state elections in Southwest Nigeria. “In a bid to be the first to break the news or spotlight everything, there are instances where security agencies or party loyalists that are very violent in nature, may attack any journalist going against their wish. The political system is becoming tough and journalists are becoming the target.”
Know the environment
Conducting independent research before an election is important. This helps you to know the environment better and the people living around there.
“It is not enough to say I’m going to a place and you have not done research about the place,” Ojo said. “You should be able to do research and visit the place two days before to understand the terrain,” Ojo said, adding that this helps in times of danger because the ecosystem is volatile and the political system is tough.
“You cannot predict what will happen at any spot because there could be violence,” he said. “Understand the environment so you will be able to navigate when issues come up.”
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