INVESTIGATION ON THE IMPACT OF MEDIA ON PUBLIC OPINION REGARDING POLITICAL ISSUES IN KENYA
1.1 Background of the study
In recent months, starting from December 2008, there has been a noticeable decline in popular support for the Grand Coalition Government of Kenya. There seems to be a growing phenomenon of public indifference towards the government and its officials, as Kenyan citizens are becoming more disillusioned with time. Numerous studies and analyses undertaken by several parties and organisations have consistently shown a downward trajectory in the level of acceptance among the Kenyan populace. According to a report titled "SPEC Barometer Results" conducted by the Steadman Group (now known as Synovate) from April 13th to 17th, 2009, there has been a notable decline in the approval ratings of the government and its leaders. Subsequent reports have consistently indicated a further decrease in these approval ratings. According to the research, the approval rating of the president was recorded at 48%, the prime minister at 64%, the speaker of the National Assembly at 68%, while the media received a 73% approval rating. According to the study conducted by Ai and Zhang (2021), According to a survey published on February 23, 2009, a majority of 70 percent of Kenyan citizens expressed the belief that the Government had not accomplished any notable achievements beyond resolving the post-election violence. The findings of the Steadman Group's survey indicate that a mere 31 percent of Kenyan respondents expressed optimism over the longevity of the Grand Coalition Government, foreseeing its potential to last until the year 2012.In a publication titled "People's Verdict: Coalition Has Let Us Down" in The Standard Newspaper on February 23, 2009, it was reported that approximately 77 to 80 percent of individuals expressed a lack of confidence in the Government's dedication to address various issues. These concerns encompassed the post-election violence, scandals related to maize and oil, instances of extra-judicial killings, as well as fire safety and disaster preparedness. The Government's performance in many areas was evaluated via a survey. The results indicated a low rating of 8 percent for education, 6 percent for handling post-election violence, 5 percent for the delivery of services, 3 percent for national reconciliation, and 3 percent for food security and humanitarian assistance.A portion of the population expressed their concerns about various societal issues, with 2 percent focusing on combating corruption, another 2 percent emphasising poverty reduction, and 1 percent each addressing matters of security, the economy, resource allocation, and health. In a document titled "The Grand Failure," the Mars Group Kenya Ltd asserts that the Grand Coalition Government has had a significant lack of success in its performance, specifically with regards to the execution of agenda four as outlined in the National Accord and its reform package. According to the research, a significant proportion of Kenyan citizens see the government's performance as a grand failure.The most recent survey performed by the Synovate company, titled "SPEC Barometer Results Quarter 3," held from October 5th to 13th, 2009, showed a consistent pattern with previous polls, indicating a significant level of displeasure towards government initiatives in addressing several pressing concerns. Notably, the problem of food prices received the greatest level of disapproval, with about 80% of respondents expressing dissatisfaction.The prevalence of corruption in the public sector is at 66%, while poverty rates also stand at 66%. According to Akinola, Omar, and Mustapha (2022), Following the enactment of the Kenya Communications Amendment Bill (2008) in December 2008, which sparked controversy, the media initiated a vigorous campaign against government officials. The objective of this campaign was to exert pressure on the government to renounce the bill and revise or eliminate its contentious provisions.On December 11, 2009, prominent news networks devoted their full news broadcast duration to a vehement critique of the Bill and the government officials (Ardèvol-Abreu, 2019). In an effort to amplify public scrutiny, media organisations resorted to what may be seen as unethical journalistic practises by delving into the personal lives of government officials, specifically focusing on the Minister for Information and Communication, Honourable Samuel Poghisio, in topics unrelated to the bill at hand. During the first phase of the clash, which occurred on Jamhuri Day, specifically on the 12th of December in the year 2008, a number of journalists, media practitioners, and civil society activists were apprehended for wearing black T-shirts adorned with protest slogans. Their objective was to advocate for the practise of freedom of speech (Ariely, 2015). The aforementioned occurrences received substantial attention from the local media. It is noteworthy that these events occurred at a period characterised by severe food scarcity in Kenya, coinciding with the first impacts of the global economic downturn being experienced in the nation. Additionally, it is important to highlight that Kenyan lawmakers, while receiving substantial incomes, had declined to fulfil their tax obligations. In his study titled "The Effects of the Global Financial Crisis: A Case Study of Kenya," Francis Mwega highlights the repercussions of the global financial crisis on Kenya, emphasising the significance of its rural-based agro economy. Mwega argues that the crisis has particularly influenced the country's food prices, leading to subsequent inflationary pressures. In her paper titled "The Global Financial Crisis: Its Impact on Kenya and Possible Strategies to Mitigate the Effects," Mrs. Stella Kilonzo, the Chief Executive Officer of the Capital Markets Authority, emphasises the repercussions of the global crisis on the Kenyan economy. The media capitalised on the prevailing discontent among Kenyan citizens when they interacted with the government (Beam et al., 2018). The outcome led to heightened discontent among the individuals comprising the Kenyan populace.During this era, the media prominently highlighted a significant concern pertaining to Members of Parliament who, while facing widespread public disapproval, refused to fulfil their tax obligations. The concurrent occurrence of corruption scandals, including the maize and gasoline scams, with a period of hunger, has garnered significant attention. Based on figures provided by the United Nations' World Food Programme, it is said that around 4 million individuals in Kenya are now experiencing a state of acute food insecurity, leading to the imminent threat of starving. The escalating expenses associated with essential services and amenities have rendered them financially inaccessible for the typical Kenyan citizen. Concurrently, the government's unrestrained expenditure on seemingly trivial matters, such as allocating a substantial budget for tea and flowers for ministries, has generated widespread discontent among the general population (Blumler, 2015). The media extensively covered the conflicts within the coalition government, which resulted in ongoing power struggles that hindered government operations in critical areas such as healthcare. This portrayal conveyed the perception that politicians prioritised their pursuit of power, leading many Kenyans to question the coalition government's ability to complete its full five-year term. The lack of substantial advancements made by the government, including parliament, in prosecuting the individuals responsible for the post-election violence garnered considerable attention from the media and became a prominent topic of discussion among the general public for an extended period. Two fire tragedies resulted in the loss of more than 150 lives, and the government's reaction was seen as lacking promptness and coordination. This led to a perception among Kenyan citizens that the government displayed insensitivity towards their suffering. During a same timeframe, there was a notable surge in media attention about instances of extrajudicial murders, which ultimately resulted in the tragic deaths of two human rights workers affiliated with the Oscar foundation. Considerable attention was devoted to the government's failure or reluctance to address pressing concerns impacting the Kenyan populace, such as the handling of corrupt ministers and other public officials embroiled in several corruption scandals. According to Brosius et al. (2019), the implementation of publicly broadcasting parliamentary sessions has not alleviated the challenges faced by lawmakers, since it allows the public to see their involvement in conflicts and persistent verbal exchanges. During a period marked by several problems, a resolution to censure the minister for Agriculture, who was implicated in the Maize and fertiliser affair, was brought before parliament but ultimately did not succeed. Several government officials and politicians who have been embroiled in numerous corruption scandals have maintained their positions, asserting their refusal to step down. During this period, the media shown a strong inclination to emphasise these issues. At a certain juncture, a conflict arose between the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, and the Standard Group Media. This conflict stemmed from the Prime Minister's assertion that the media organisation deliberately emphasised negative matters with the aim of damaging the government's reputation, while neglecting to report on the positive accomplishments of the government. During a single meeting, he made a commitment to address the media organisation (Carreras & Vera, 2018). In a recent development, the prime minister has orchestrated a prominent news conference with the purpose of defending the coalition administration and showcasing its notable accomplishments. During the briefing, the speaker acknowledged that the Grand Coalition had not achieved complete success. However, he attributed the media's focus on negative aspects as a factor that undermined the trust of Kenyan citizens, neglecting to emphasise the beneficial measures implemented by the government and the advancements accomplished so far.. Therefore, the researcher sought to investigate the impact of media on public opinion regarding political issues in Kenya.
1.2 Statement of the problem
The empirical data derived from surveys conducted in Kenya by Synovate Group, Strategic PR, and other local organisations consistently demonstrates that Kenyan people see the media as a trustworthy and very significant source of information. The media is widely seen as playing a crucial role in monitoring the actions of the grand coalition government from its start, as noted by Ceron (2015). However, it is noteworthy that the grand coalition government has recently faced consistent criticism from the media for failing to fulfil its mandate and meet popular expectations. The primary inquiry is on examining the potential impact of media coverage on the perceived unfavourable evaluation of the Grand coalition government by the general people (Chen, 2017). This research aimed to examine the potential effects of media coverage on the grand coalition government over the time frame of December 1st, 2008 to March 31st, 2009. Hence, the need to investigate the impact of media on public opinion regarding political issues in Kenya.
1.3 Objective of the study
The broad objective of the study is to investigate the impact of media on public opinion regarding political issues in Kenya. The specific objectives is as follows
i. To investigate the extent to which media influences public opinion towards political issues in Kenya.
ii. To explore the relationship between media coverage of public opinion and political issues in Kenya.
iii. Assess the challenges of media in covering public opinion and political issues in Kenya.
1.4 Research questions
The following questions have been prepared for the study
i. What is the extent to which media influences public opinion towards political issues in Kenya?
ii. What is the relationship between media coverage of public opinion and political issues in Kenya?
iii. What is challenges of media in covering public opinion and political issues in Kenya?
1.5 Significance of the study
This research has significance in providing more insights into the realm of public opinion. Despite the extensive body of research conducted in this domain, each successive study has contributed to the further development of our understanding of media's role in shaping public opinion. However, significant gaps in knowledge still persist. The research will attempt to address these issues.
Moreover, this research will be valuable to the political leadership of the nation, as it provides significant insights into strategies that the government might use in order to prevent unwarranted disputes with the media on its management of crucial matters.
This research has relevance for media owners and practitioners, since it examines the repercussions of media's lack of neutrality on their credibility.
The work has significance in advancing scholarly dialogue within the realm of media and agenda formation.
1.6 Scope of the study
The study focuses on the impact of media on public opinion regarding political issues in Kenya. Hence, the study will investigate the extent to which media influences public opinion towards political issues in Kenya, explore the relationship between media coverage of public opinion and political issues in Kenya and Assess the challenges of media in covering public opinion and political issues in Kenya.
1.7 Limitations of the study
Like in every human endeavour, the researchers encountered slight constraints while carrying out the study. Insufficient funds tend to impede the efficiency of the researcher in sourcing for the relevant materials, literature, or information and in the process of data collection (internet, questionnaire, and interview), which is why the researcher resorted to a moderate choice of sample size. More so, the researcher will simultaneously engage in this study with other academic work. As a result, the amount of time spent on research will be reduced.
1.8 Definition of terms
Media: the main means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the internet) regarded collectively.
Public opinion: the collective opinion on a specific topic or voting intention relevant to society. It is the people's views on matters affecting them.
Political issues: Political means relating to the way power is achieved and used in a country or society.