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State advertising used to intimidate Kenyan media - Editors

In Summary

• The statement was read by KEG chairman Churchill Otieno

• He explained that the Kenyan media has remained robust over the years and managed to generate resources internally to support journalism.

Media Council of Kenya CEO David Omwoyo engages Kenya Editor Guild Chairman Churchill Otieno at the Great Rift Valley Lodge in Naivasha during the World Press Freedom Day on May 3. 2019.
Media Council of Kenya CEO David Omwoyo engages Kenya Editor Guild Chairman Churchill Otieno at the Great Rift Valley Lodge in Naivasha during the World Press Freedom Day on May 3. 2019.
Image: COURTESY

Kenyan editors have listed the over-reliance on government advertising,  harassment of journalists and unethical behaviour as the major threats to media in the country.

In a statement to mark the World Press Freedom Day issued in Naivasha, the Kenya Editors Guild has called on dealing with these issues to safeguard media independence.

The statement was read by KEG chairman Churchill Otieno at an ongoing two-day gathering of stakeholders organised by the Media Council of Kenya.

 
 

"Independent journalism places public interest above the ever-festering commercial and political interests. In Kenya, editors see four major threats to independent journalism and we call on all friends of democracy to join forces to protect this space," the Editors said.

He explained that the Kenyan media has remained robust over the years and managed to generate resources internally to support journalism.

However, Otieno noted, this reality has come under serious pressure lately following media disruption on many fronts.

"Therefore, the question of how to fund journalism is an existential one that cannot be left to the media alone. The advertising-funded model of journalism is broken and we must work hard and fast to find new ones," Otieno said.



The Editors noted that there are interests – some government, some political, some commercial – that are hellbent on exploiting these systemic challenges to undermine media freedom.

They noted that the Government Advertising Agency was created in controversial circumstances as a clearinghouse for all public sector ads.

"Today, it has morphed into a master switch that can and has been abused. It arguably is the single-biggest threat to editorial independence and sustainability of the media as we sit here today," the statement says.

 

It concludes that the media must find ways to ensure government advertising drives development of the industry as opposed to being a poisoned chalice.

Harassment

The second threat listed by  Editors is harassment and attacks against journalists and media houses.

Many journalists have been subjected to harassment, physical attacks, threats and intimidation by various actors, including the State, security agents, politicians/political parties and their supporters.

"A number of them suffered psychological trauma and physical injuries, which could have long-term effects. Our women colleagues have particularly suffered on this score as they also face sexualised attacks from online trolls," the statement reads.

Editors noted that depending on the coverage accorded to news events, journalists have variously been seen as biased by sharply-divided political antagonists who are only too eager to blame the media for any misfortunes their political camps suffer.

"This gets worse at the Counties, where some Assemblies and Governors’ Offices have become no-go zones for reporters," the Editors said.

Those aggrieved by the media, the statement says, should follow the law among them petitioning the Media Complaints Commission for action.

"Perpetrators of threats and attacks against journalists must be held accountable," the Editors said.

Peer Review

Looking internally, editors said that the third threat to media freedom in Kenya is weaknesses in ethical practice.

"We have on occasion dropped the ball and allowed errors, sometimes serious ones, to pass. These come as a result of failure by individuals, other times it is systemic," their statement reads.

The Guild’s Executive has recently established an Ethics Committee to guide editors. The Editors have also opened conversation with the journalism schools to ensure their curriculum is geared to prepare students for the reality prevailing in the industry.

"A third intervention, and probably most key, is to encourage colleagues to recognise that the public has immense interest in media issues hence such should get sufficient coverage on print, broadcast and digital platforms," the statement states.

The fourth threat identified by editors is brought about by delayed legal and policy reforms.

They note that it is not possible to grow and develop the industry unless we have a clear media policy that speaks to Kenya’s unique context, and make laws the promote independent journalism.

"If an independent media is so important that Kenyans so it fit to protect it in the Constitution, then we must not allow situations where some radio owners serve as both editor and advertising manager of their stations," the editors say.

They added; "we should not allow situations where ambulance chasers orchestrate extremely high defamation penalties against media houses."