May 282012
Kenya's The Daily Nation

Election time is looming in Kenya and there is a sense of guardedness as the country moves from the dark past of post election violence in 2007 that resulted in the deaths of over 1,500 people.

The upcoming election is also a litmus test of the new people-driven constitution that Kenyans came up with in 2010.

The election will also mark the end of the incumbent president’s second term of office and efforts are being made to ensure that the transition of power is peaceful, free and fair.

In light of the sometimes adverse role sections of the media played at the last election, the move by the Nation Media Group (NMG, East and Central Africa’s largest media house) to publish guidelines for political advertising comes as a pleasant surprise.

The group released a statement in its flagship Daily Nation newspaper on May 26 outlining rules to be observed prior to running political advertisements in any of the NMG publications or broadcast media.

The NMG’s move followed in the footsteps of guidelines for election coverage released by the Media Council of Kenya jointly with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission of Kenya (IEBC), several media associations, guilds and unions.

Perhaps the most significant new NMG rule for human rights defenders is Rule 5 which states:

“Advertisements shall be rejected outright if they contain the following:

a) Obscene or profane language or pictorial representation that, when taken in context, tends to or is likely to expose an individual or a group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability.”

The guidelines are crystal clear about messages preaching hate and intolerance.

Coming barely a fortnight after marking the annual May 17, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia the issuance of these guidelines speaks volumes and rubber stamps human right freedoms.

These rules are also is an open admission to society that it is indeed inherently wrong to prejudice others due to their sexual orientation or gender identity among other things.

The Nation Media Group has taken a step in the right direction in ensuring that its readership and even more important all Kenyan people are treated with respect and dignity.

If we flip the coin however, one may ask if media houses see the value of borrowing a leaf from these guidelines when publishing its own opinion pieces that sometimes shroud bigoted opinions in ‘freedom of expression.’

The Kenyan Bill of Rights is clear on its on freedom of expression but this does not extend to hate speech.

Some opinion writers have been known to go on homophobic rants preaching intolerance further marginalising LGBTI individuals. Why should there be a double standard on this issue?

To illustrate this point further an article by opinion piece writer for Nation Newspaper, Dr Lukoye Atwoli titled ‘Temper gay-bashing with facts, and tolerance’ June 5, 2010 stated, “While it is in order for one to hold personal views about a subject as personal as homosexuality, it goes beyond the bounds of decency to hit out at individuals who are just going about their lives without posing a threat to anyone else.”

This article was in response to an article by fellow opinion piece writer and an editor with the Daily Nation Dorothy Kweyu which was headlined: ‘Homosexuality an abomination in the sight of God and man’ and appeared on May 25, 2010.

In the article, Kweyu expressed her revulsion in covering a story regarding a Christian ministry in Nairobi, Other Sheep Africa-Kenya that does not ostracise the LGBTI community and welcomed them to worship.

The Daily Nation editor said, “It occurred to me that as a mother and a Christian, I would be failing in my responsibilities, albeit as a layperson, if I did not express the utter horror and revulsion that was mine at reading such brazen affirmation of an evil.”

In yet another opinion piece by Eric Ng’eno an advocate of the High Court titled, ‘Gay debate: Conservatives must up their game’

“Many describe it (homosexuality) as disgusting and so on, but so is the eating of caviar, dogs, cats and assorted molluscs. Is that a sufficient reason to institute a legal prohibition?”

He brings up a valid point when he asks whether personal revulsion can be the basis for legislation.

Ng’eno also expressed his disagreement with critical descriptions of homosexuals by homophobic writers saying, “It follows therefore that sexual contact between two individuals must be consensual and non-coercive in order to be considered normal. It is, therefore, unfair for writers such as Kweyu to compare some forms of normal sexual activity to ‘‘petty thieves and pickpockets.’’ It is even worse to put homosexuals in the same category as paedophiles, rapists and murderers as others have done in the past.”

The writer goes ahead to make a brave assertion about anti-gay aggressors solely focussing on what he terms as ‘sexual behaviour.’ He rightly urges Kenyans not to preoccupy their minds on the sexual activity between two consenting adults in the privacy of their homes.

In 2010, in neighbouring Uganda a well known anti-gay clergyman Pastor Sempa screened hard-core pornography to his congregation of over 300, children included. He claimed that he wanted to show what ‘homosexuals do in the privacy of their bedrooms.’

It seems to me that the loudest homophobic voices are so preoccupied and obsessed about sexual acts that the debate never goes beyond this.

Melissa Wainaina Arcus