Critical campaigning is taking place in both the US and the UK. In the former, real estate mogul, Donald Trump, weeks ago clinched the ticket to run for president in November as a Republican candidate. On the Democratic Party side, Hilary Clinton has made history as the first female to be nominated by a major political party to run for president. Of course, there is still the problem of Bernie Sanders who is campaigning to upset Clinton’s apple cart.
In the UK, the Britons are faced with a choice that is probably more important than that of a general election. In a matter of days, they will be forced to decide on whether to remain as part of the European Union or exit union of nearly 30 countries. Politicians David Cameron on the one hand and Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson on the other are facing off daily trying to woe citizens to their different sides.
However, the two campaigns could not be more contrasting. In the US, there is such cacophony. Trump’s rallies have attracted great numbers complete with the kind of violence not associated with elections in mature democracies. People have been attacked, campaign officials sued, and Trump has issued threats across the board with dire warnings of what he would do as president or if defeated.
For what it is worth, Britain still cuts the image of the gentle one with dour even boring campaigns. Could the media in these countries be a factor in the difference that is witnessed in the campaigns? The American society is hugely polarised. This is particularly so in its media.
On the one hand is the right wing media led by Fox owned by Rupert Mudock’s NewsCorp empire. It is a shrill voice populated by right of the right ideologues in whose world there is no middle ground. They are more evangelical than the evangelicals, more conservative than the conservatives and guided more by faith than reason.
Then you have the liberal media that occupy the left of the left. Between the two media there is no middle ground and the twain shall not meet. American scholar, Elihu Katz, theorised in his ‘uses and gratifications’ theory that media consumers seek out specific content that satisfy personal needs. People, for example, will not watch a programme that appears to disagree with their stereotypes.
It is the reason why, for example, in our polarised political arena, Cord supporters will actively seek out media they consider to support their beliefs and vice versa for Jubilee followers.
The differences between the left and the right are fairly pronounced in the case of the US. Britain, too, has her conservative and liberal press. However, the chasm between the left and the right in UK may not be as wide as it is in the US.
However, it does not stop there. Britain has BBC, that ancient voice that has opened the world to the Britons since 1922. It is not only a news source but a cultural tool for the British and probably one of the remaining symbols that the sun never sets on the empire. By all measure, it is a tempered voice of reason, indepth interrogation of issues, which seeks to be as objective as it can.
Because they are funded by the exchequer, they have to step gingerly lest they disparage one side of the political divide and endanger funds source.
It is an organ that the Americans do not have. The Public Broadcast Station for the Americans can hardly compare. It seeks to be objective and thus failing the test of uses and gratifications. A polarised US media market demands a shrill voice. Consequently, its audience has remained small.
Could the polarisation of the US be explained by this chasm that no media has occupied? Would US public be different if they had a medium such as the BBC? It is a question that our media policy should address. We live in an equally polarised state with media that is perceived to be equally aligned to the various political interests.
The national broadcaster, KBC, struggles to straddle the middle space against the demands of uses and gratifications theory. Yet it could serve as the BBC of Kenya cutting across the various biases and providing a voice that both sides can listen to. Our media must strive to occupy this middle space for the sake of the nation.
Writer is Dean, School of Communications, Language and Performing Arts at Daystar University