The Media and August 8th Hysteria: Is Media Fanning the Flames of Violence?

Article by Kui Mwai
Posted: August 03, 2017  


Torture. Lurk. Hunt. Fear. Murder. These words are not only connected by their ominous and harrowing nature. They are all featured descriptors used to report developments surrounding the upcoming election by the media. From the beginning of the year to now, just days leading up to elections, whispers of potential violence have turned into screams, due to coverage fixation by the media.

We are constantly exposed to dramatized headlines which have emotionally manipulated us to fall into a rabbit hole of fearful notions surrounding this year’s election. By associating the election and the day’s politics so closely with violence, might that not inadvertently cause the elections to become violent?

Stories like the siege of Deputy President Ruto’s home and, more recently, the murder of IEBC official Chris Msando, have captured the country’s attention. Each passing day offers new contradicting information, which leaves us all wondering what, if anything, we have read is true in the political narrative of this election.

The strategic way the media delves out information to the public is similar to plot lines found in Law and Order or Criminal Minds. The narrative the media has spun in regards to this year’s election is: Don’t be fooled by the peaceful outcome of the 2013 General Election; There is violence within and surrounding this year’s election; You cannot trust the security apparatus to protect you; You cannot trust your neighbour or fellow Kenyan to not be violent this election; You cannot trust yourself to not be violent this election. It certainly sells newspapers but is it also fuelling the fire?

A promo of the infamous Presidential debate which kicks off with a boxing bell sound effect and punctuated by a rousing combative-styled Johnson Mwakazi voice over.

In addition to focusing on political scandals, stories about people fleeing the city are splashed all over newspapers and newsfeeds. The two messages the public is receiving about the elections: Violence and Escape. These unhealthy stimuli are what will pre-determine a violent outburst in response to the election, regardless of who comes out victorious.

The issue is not just with the subject matter of the stories being told by the media, this election season has also been dealing with the quality of news that’s being circulated. Fake news, a term popularized during the American election last November by President Trump, consists of “deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media”.


The indistinguishability of fake news is helping muddy the waters in regards to emotions and violence around the elections. Earlier this week, a fake poll video cut from a CNN Philippines report, created an uproar. The video provided false polling information, implying incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was leading over the opposition leader Raila Odinga. CNN’s International PR Department confirmed in a tweet that the video was fake. The same happened with a fake BBC report.

With fake news making its way to established platforms like CNN, it has become more and more difficult to determine what is fake news. The Nation even featured “Tips for spotting false news”. This political phenomenon, is only adding to the hysteria surrounding August 8th.

Some commentators are putting all of the blame on social media. Demas Kiprono, senior legal officer, discusses in his article “Fake news, propaganda and role of media before and during poll” the differences between fake news and propaganda, arguing that fake news is just false information and propaganda is information “of a biased or misleading nature”. He continues to assign the blame of media generated fear on social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.

Shifting blame?

The problem with this analysis is that the issue is not black and white. Fake news stories that find themselves in newspapers, on newsfeeds, in tweets, or talked about in WhatsApp groups are usually stories with a political agenda-providing false information implying something negative or positive about a candidate. The content is biased in nature, making it fake news and also propaganda. It is unfair to place the blame on social media platforms as they are not separate platforms from other sources like newspapers and magazines; they are just another way to talk about what is already in the news. We understand the media to be one mass cultural institution, that not only tells us the news but also has the power to tell us how to feel about the news.

For the next couple of days, give your mind and stress levels a break. Try to focus attention on some positive reporting like the uplifting story of Francis Ole Tumankas, featured in the Nation earlier this week. His inspiriting persistence in his pursuit to get an education highlights the best of this country. We hope the media can feature more stories like this in the days ahead. Perfect refreshers and reminders of what’s great about this country as we all head to the peaceful polls next week.


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