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January 24, 2019

Is Kenyan Media Really Free?

World Press Freedom Day
World Press Freedom Day

As we approach the August 8 General Election, rough roads and choppy waters will be at the doorstep of every media house.

As it is now, politicians have already started complaining about reporters, whom they accuse of unfairly covering them and their campaign rallies.

Do we have to cover all the ‘public relations’ gimmicks politicians throw at us, or should media focus only on what is in the public interest?

A report published by Paris media watchdog Reporters Without Borders shows Kenya’s press freedom rating has stagnated for the past two years.

This is even as the global trend towards good journalism worsened, an indication the country has done little to improve the media environment. The latest Press Freedom Index showed our ranking remains at 95 out of the 180 countries polled.

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) 2016 report shows journalists are not alone in this fight. It encourages other organisations to help media houses to access information within or without their jurisdictions.

A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists released last week indicated the Jubilee government is using economic strangulation, manipulation and infiltration to suppress media.

Despite the promise of new media, the 2017 CPJ edition of Attack on the Press, also published this week, documents vast censoring of information by governments across the world, using financial pressure on journalists and news outlets, exploitation of legal loopholes to avoid disclosure of copyright laws and social media to curb criticism. Are we able to explain our actions to the public without being attacked?

Growing up, my vision was to be in the media, a profession I so much envied. Seating in my grandmother’s lap, I thought of how beautiful I would be on TV reading the news.

I looked forward to getting out of poverty and showing the world what life meant for those who did not have it all; I looked forward to the day I’d walk to the President and ask him questions about events in the country.

I talked to my grandmother, and asked questions about my dreams. “Grandma, how do these people manage to get news?” I asked.

“My dear, the government has to be put in check. These reporters are sent to cover events, or investigate some bad people, then report it to us,” she said.

This response excited and even motivated me more to become a journalist. But one thing I remember grandma saying is,“But it is not easy my child. You will always get ups and downs but be firm in your decision.”

These were the exact words that crossed my mind 20 years later, after the government started making it hard for reporters and media houses to freely publish articles, investigate without threats, intimidation and killings as has happened in the past. Those words have brought me this far, and they should drive media houses.

It is firmness that makes you reject interference from the state and established private enterprises in reporting.

This leads me to economic control of the media by the government, through the introduction of the MyGov publication. It is the new advertising platform, which consequently denies mainstream media revenue. This is an indication that the government is hell-bent on muzzling the media in every way it can.

According to the government, the pullout provides current news and information on its development programmes. But if the government starts creating its news, how will we, as the media critic, question what they claim to have done?

There have been attempts to make information available through the Kenya Open Data Portal and the recently launched the National Government Public Information Portal — — by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.

The platform is a one-stop source of stories and facts on projects undertaken by the Jubilee government and what it has achieved. With this, the media is muzzled to ensure the public does not get the right information for them to make informed decisions.

It is for this reason that journalists have often become arrested for simply attempting to give people information. Having marked World Press Freedom Day on Wednesday, let us take a stand and put the government in check.

If we don’t do this, who will?

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