A three-day retreat for senators and editors has started at the EnglishPoint Marina in Mombasa with a strong call for fair coverage of political campaigns ahead of the August polls.
Deputy Senate Minority Leader Abdirahaman Hassan said the media play a crucial role in modelling a better society that promotes justice for all and fights vices like corruption and bad governance.
But he noted that media have not done very well in the coverage of Senate proceedings, preferring to dwell on news items instead of researching and probing policies.
“There has been no research on legislation and probing of policy. Instead, the media [have] tended to concentrate on news items,” said Mr Hassan.
He said in political rallies, the media prefer to pick up abusive language by speakers instead of focusing on pertinent issues such as health and education.
Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar said the media have an important role in shaping society.
Mr Omar, who is vying for Mombasa governor’s seat, said there is urgent need to redefine the role of the Senate.
He claimed that Senate’s powers have been usurped by the “inferior” National Assembly.
“The Senate should be the upper House that makes the laws not [National Assembly],” he said.
He further said it takes too long in the Senate for a Bill to be signed into law, sometimes several years.
“It should take one year from Bill to law,” he said.
He called for sensitisation of Kenyans to elect more women, especially as senators, so that they can participate fully and contribute in national development.
“Women should not be leaders only through nomination or special seats like women reps. They should be elected in a competitive election,” he said.
He said there should be a women council similar to that of men, which can deliberate on women candidates for the various seats.
Mr Omar said the so-called fair and equal coverage for different political parties should be based on issues and not merely on air time and newspaper space.
“You should not struggle to give equal airtime or space to people who have no issues and those with issues. That is not equal coverage,” he said.
Senate Deputy Speaker Kembi Gitura said that all over the world, the Senate is always the upper House.
The claim that the Kenyan Senate is inferior is mere perception, he said.
“The Senate and senators are not inferior to anyone including the governor’s. We are equal, each with a specific constitutionally defined role,” he said.
He noted that there is an exodus of senators moving to vie for governors’ seats, saying they should fight to strengthen the Senate if elected unlike the serving governors who want the House dead.
“There are some people who want the Senate dead. This is returning us back to the dark days,” he said.
He accused governors and MPs of deliberately denying the Senate resources which is key to its functioning.
“The Senate should be empowered with more resources to play its role and even go to the counties to tell the people of its important role,” he said.
He cautioned the media to be careful in their reporting for the sake of peace and tranquillity.
“If we promote violence, intimidation, war mongering, goon type of campaign and other conduct by candidates, we can set our country on fire,” he warned.
He said the media has the power to make or break the nation and urged reporters and editors to take great care in what goes to press or on air.