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UN Report Examines Media Coverage of Kenya Elections


One month ahead of general elections in Kenya, a new report claims that government-controlled broadcast media are favoring President Mwai Kibaki in their coverage. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, President Kibaki is locked in a tight race with challenger Raila Odinga.

The report, by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Strategic, a local public opinion research firm, examines the quantity and quality of coverage of the different parties and presidential candidates by radio, television, and print media.

The report finds that, for the most part, the major candidates have received similar amounts of coverage. While the candidate receiving the most positive coverage varied between media outlets, the report found that negative coverage was consistently less for President Kibaki than for Odinga.

The coordinator of the UNDP election assistance program in Kenya, Margie Cook, tells VOA that television and radio coverage of the president by government-run Kenya Broadcasting Corporation is a cause for concern.

"The findings are showing that generally the KBC and, to a lesser extent, the Citizen Group are disproportionately favoring the government and the incumbent with their coverage over and above the other parties and candidates," she noted.

Cook says another troubling finding is the use of ethnically divisive language by smaller radio stations.

"Coverage on community-based radio stations which use vernacular language and are ethnically-based are often using language that incites racial hatred and incites tensions between the different ethnic groupings," she added.

Support for Kenya's political parties tends to be based more on ethnic allegiances than on political ideology, and can fuel tensions between tribes. President Kibaki's Party of National Unity, for example, is dominated by Kenya's largest tribe, the Kikuyu, while Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement has its base among the Luo tribe of Western Kenya.

Despite the shortcomings in news coverage, Cook says election coverage, especially in Kenya's newspapers, has significantly improved over the previous election campaign in 2002.

President Kibaki is facing a serious challenge from Odinga.

In opinion polls since late September, Odinga had been leading the president, but recent surveys show that Mr. Kibaki has largely closed the gap.

A survey released on Friday by Kenya's most prominent pollster, the Steadman Group, shows Odinga leading President Kibaki by only three-tenths of a percentage point. No margin of error was given.

The U.N. study monitored media coverage from October 29 to November 25.

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