Opinion

How senior Raila campaigner ruined debate

The debate stage. [Photo/ kenyayote]

President Uhuru Kenyatta made a prudent decision to skip the televised presidential debate on Monday, it is now emerging.

It is now clear the president was not going to be treated fairly by the moderators. First, the organizers of the event, Debates Media Limited, refused to involve the Jubilee leader or his team in the planning of the debate.

To ensure the process is fair, Debates Media Limited managers needed to involve the leading candidates in picking the date for the debate, the names of non-partisan moderators, the topics to be covered, the venue etc. They did not care to consult anyone in the Jubilee camp.

There is no way you can invite presidential candidates to a televised debate though hyped TV ads and expect them to show up. The president’s calendar has been fully filled in the past month, traveling across all parts of the country to meet Kenyans in their homes and marketplaces.

The organizer of a presidential debate needs to be a not-for profit outfit and have the public interest at heart. As Prof Anyang Nyong’o argued recently in an opinion article, in which he advised against leading candidates appearing for a debate organized by Debates Media Limited, there was need for full disclosure on the part of the organisers. Are they members of any political parties in Kenya or outside?

It has now emerged, sadly, that a senior member of NASA presidential candidate Raila Odinga owns Debates Media Limited. Former television journalist Kathleen Openda, who heads Mr Odinga’s communication team, owns the firm that organized the debate. How unfair can things get? Why was this not disclosed?

The media houses that planned to cover the event were doing so in order to make millions in advertising. It is no secret that at this time of busy campaigns, leading candidates such as President Kenyatta draw high ratings that TV managers sell, at a premium, to advertisers. Ahead of Monday’s debate, the TV owners were projecting to make more than Sh300 million in advertising from the 90-minute event. Their interest was to make money, and not serve the public interest.

Although President Kenyatta indicated that he was not planning to attend the debate, the planners ignored his word and continued to advertise the event with the president’s name. This was not only disrespectful but also misleading to the audience.

During the debate, which was only attended by Mr Odinga, the moderators admitted giving the ODM leader questions earlier. They did not do the same to President Kenyatta. This was very unfair to the head of state, and he was smart to see this ahead of time.

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