Female political aspirants not getting adequate, fair media coverage

Prof. Kimani Njogu, the Chief Executive Officer, Twaweza Communications address participants at the  round table meeting discussing women coverage in the media.Picture: Courtesy
Prof. Kimani Njogu, the Chief Executive Officer, Twaweza Communications address participants at the round table meeting discussing women coverage in the media.Picture: Courtesy

As Kenyans prepare for the General Election, due in August, the media is flooded with news and stories on candidates and issues therein emerging.

There are new talk shows, live coverage of political rallies and the public is constantly being interviewed to share their views. In the midst of all these, however, women candidates are less covered and at times not covered at all compared to their male counterparts. There are also cases where women are covered but unfortunately the intention is to portray them negatively.

In order to discuss these issues and find a way to increase women visibility in the media, Media Focus on Africa organized an Editors’ Roundtable bringing together editors, women and opinion leaders as well as journalism scholars to share their experiences.

While presenting the Baseline Survey on Gender Coverage in Kenyan Media, Prof Kimani Njogu, Chief Executive Officer, Twaweza Communications said that women have not been fairly covered compared to their male counterparts.

Survey

According to the survey, there has been some progress, but women still remain underrepresented.

In newspapers, out of 278 editions covered in a week (Nation and The Standard), 16 stories were on women leadership, six percent of the time. Daily Nation had eight percent and The Standard six percent.

In a week of monitoring news in three television stations, only two stories appeared on KTN’s Press Pass between November 20, 2016 and Feb 15, 2017. Only one programme addressed women issues and had two female panellists, while the rest were male.

Cheche, a morning talk show on Citizen TV also featured women on March 10, 2017. May be because this was just a day after marking International Women’s Day on March 8.

Within the same monitoring period, a total of 13 stories were reported on radio, appearing in 20 instances. Two stories aired three times, one story aired twice, while 11 stories aired once.

Five stories were on women being urged to register as voters, two on women declaring political intentions.

One story quoted women aspirants asking male politicians not to threaten them; the stories did not strictly address women and leadership issues.

Research concerns

The research also raised concerns that even when women candidates are covered, they are mostly on less issue based media coverage than men. When media address women, they are framed using perceived ‘feminine’ issues such as healthcare, food security and water.

When covering men, however, the media goes beyond the ‘feminine’ issues and talk about perceived ‘masculine’ issues like the budget, employment or national security. Male candidates who address the said feminine issues tend to receive more coverage. This makes it hard for the electorate to relate female candidates with any particular issue since both “masculine” and “feminine” issues can be associated with male candidates.

According to the journalists and the editors present at the meeting, they are trying to include women in their programmes but it is at times a challenge compared to their male counterparts.

They said that most women are never ready to present themselves for interviews or talk shows for discussion. Mostly it is because of timing of the programme, or they do not feel confident enough to discuss the issues.

This was, however, challenged by a female political aspirant who said that she once attended a political rally and was in so many photos and also addressed the rally but the media deliberately chose to use a photo that was taken away from the rally and had only men.

Another journalist also shared that some women aspirants, even those who have performed better on the ground and are better candidates than the male opponents still do not have enough confidence to express themselves. He gave an example of a press conference where there was both a male and female politician.

After recording, he realized that the woman’s voice was so low that his listeners could not understand her while the man’s voice was loud enough. In order to run the story, he (the reporter) had to talk on behalf of the woman.

Another reporter from an Islamic radio station also agreed that she faces challenges covering women. However, she blames religion and culture on her experience.

“Many Islamic women are brought up in an environment that requires them to be submissive and less vocal. This makes it difficult for them to express themselves in public.” She said that the situation is even worse when they are expected to appear on TV.

An aspirant also complained that the media has a habit of concentrating on how women look and at times on their body parts instead of the matter at hand. She cited an article in a local newspaper that had an article asking who among the women aspirants was sexier than the other.

Gender rule

The articles came complete with photos of the women. Most people agreed that the article was in bad taste and did not help in the fight against the two third gender rule.

There were also concerns that most journalists are also ignorant of gender sensitive reporting. A journalist, however, said that “we should not blame it entirely on the media. Some women, though few have chosen to use their looks and sexy slogans in the campaigns hence it is difficult to separate how they present themselves and what should be presented to the public”. He gave examples like ‘Manzi wa Nairobi’ and ‘Msupuu na kazi’ which he said is very different from what the men use.

“Men use slogans that portray them as strong and hardworking even if they have nothing to show for it.”

The media is also guilty of applying selective standards when covering women. There are more men in politics compared to women. More men have also been involved in corruption and other acts that go against Chapter Six of the constitution which talks about integrity.

However, the media has more interest in women who have been caught on the wrong side as compared to the men. Articles on such are usually trivialized and aimed at attacking all women as opposed to the individual.

As a way forward, journalists and editors promised to work harder and overcome the challenges that lead to poor coverage of women.

Njeri Rugene, a senior editor at Nation Media Group and one of the panellists shared that as senior journalists, they are mentoring young journalists to be gender sensitive in their reporting. “We might not be where we want to be but we have certainly improved and we are still aiming higher.”

Representatives of different media houses also promised to ensure content generated is balanced and exercises fairness. This will be achieved by applying deliberate efforts to give women leaders space and time.

The editors also committed to work around the patriarchal nature of the newsrooms.