AN ANALYSIS OF THE COVERAGE OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS BY MAINSTREAM KENYAN PRINT MEDIA: THE CASE OF THE DAILY NATION, THE STANDARD AND TAIFA LEO, 2007-2009
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ABSTRACT

The period between June 2007 and February 2009 saw Kenya's national biosafety legislation, the
Biosafety Bill, go through the parliamentary process culminating in its being passed into law. During
this period, and the six months after the Bill's enactment into law, the public debate on biosafety
almost became synonymous with that of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), especially as applied
to staple crops. This debate was catalyzed by the print media through news articles, editorials and
expert opinion articles. These articles could have impacted the general public either negatively or
positively leading to development of similar opinions. This study was therefore designed to carry out a
content analysis of the mainstream Kenyan mass media coverage of genetically modified crops during
that period, with a view to assess the manner in which it may have impacted the public.

Drawing on the agenda-setting and framing theories, a comprehensive analysis was carried out on a
total of 95 articles together published in the Daily Nation, The Standard and Taifa Leo during the
period to assess the frequency, type, tone, length, authorship and scientific accuracy of the articles as
well as the main stakeholders quoted and the frames used to represent GMOs in the articles.

The study established that the coverage of GMOs by the Kiswahili-Ianguage newspaper, Taifo Leo, was
generally low compared to the coverage by the English-language newspapers, Daily Nation and The
Standard.
Overall, the coverage by all newspapers lacked in depth, objectivity and analytical
competence. The articles were short to medium in length with letters to the editor forming the
majority of the published articles. Majority of the articles contained biases either for or against GMOs
and only about 10% contained accurate basic information about GMOs or GM technology. Most of
the articles were written by non-specialist authors (general journalists and editors) with science
journalists and specialists in agricultural biotechnology responsible for authoring a small proportion of
articles. Research scientists and government officials, who in general tended to speak in favour of
GMOs, were the most widely quoted sources. The voices of farmers and consumer groups were rarely
covered. The dominant frames, agriculture and safety, represented GMOs from the perspective of
potential benefits accruing from improved farm productivity and potential risks to human health,
respectively, but the actual benefits or risks associated with GMOs or GM technology were not
quantified.

The study findings established that the media coverage of GMOs by the three dailies was poor, and
that there is need for a general improvement on this coverage. This will enable the general public to
benefit from well-researched, balanced and analytical reporting of GMOs to fully participate in
discussions and debate about GMOs and, consequently, make informed decisions on whether or not
to adopt GMOs in their crop production systems.