United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, says “the hallmark of the hate speech was during the 2005 referendum in which there was the intensive use of inciting messages at rallies, meetings and on the airwaves. He says there was a fair component of ethnic language stations then, either owned by the political class on both sides; or aligned to them.
This indictment of the media Maina believes was a key component in fuelling hostilities that led to the 2007/8 post election violence. Indeed, the confirmation of charges against Kass FM radio presenter and producer Joshua arap Sang’ by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is indicative of the potential damage done by the power of the airwaves. Perhaps this will be a deterrent for future conduct by journalists. Internews Kenya Country Director Ida Jooste is emphatic that “following Sang’s confirmation, perhaps a journalist is involved in future in hate speech will at least be ashamed, if not in fact found to be guilty of a crime.”
Media consultant, Joseph Warungu, says the power of the media to effect change and influence society is immense. “Think of libel and hate speech as they work in tandem. If a journalist defames someone, they have a right to seek redress.” Warungu says it is vital to find mechanisms to detect and respond to hate speech on radio and TV. Warungu says media houses should use delay techniques in call-ins while educating audiences that hate speech will not be condoned. He calls for robust and rigorous moderation for online media: “A journalist is responsible for not only what they say but also what they allow others to say” he advises.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), defines hate speech as: ‘any utterance of words intended to incite feelings of contempt, hatred, hostility, violence or discrimination against any person, group or community on basis of ethnicity, religion or race’. The utterances also include oral and written communication and other forms of expression including art, film, and gestures.
The media and other stakeholders can cooperate better on these matters. NCIC Commissioner Milly Lwanga says the recent case in which the commission took Minister Wilfred Machage to court, the complainants could not get the ideal result because the media did not cooperate – it would not confirm the source of hate speech. This led to the charges being dismissed at trial due to insufficient evidence.
Moreover, hate speech can occur also in social media and the arts. David Ohito, the Standard Newspaper Regional Editor says it is very difficult to monitor hate speech in social media and from call-ins. He says social media reaches a wider audience than mainstream media, especially among young people.
Comedian and politician Morris Ochieng’ feels artists are the mirror of society and therefore creating a positive image of Kenya is crucial. He argues that appreciation of the country and the art of sacrifice will drive this agenda but it starts with fostering positive values to children through the education system. Internews founder David Hoffman agrees that all journalists have a responsibility beyond mere reporting and must call for more accountability from leaders. Indeed Public interest should not outweigh public concern, he says.
The speakers were interacting with journalists at an Internews roundtable on Hate Speech.
The four-year Health Media Project (HMP) launched in January 2013. It builds on the success of Internews’ Voices in Health media training program (2003-2012).