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January 21, 2019

VICTOR BWIRE: Restoring faith in the media


Last year had both good and ugly experiences for the media in Kenya.

Reports from global press freedom watchdogs, including Article 19 and Reporters Without Borders, have shown press freedom in Kenya is currently under threat. Challenges include misapplication of the legal regime against the media, editorial influence by corporates/owners and advertisers, physical threats to practitioners, credibility and professional concerns, including corruption and misinformation, and poor working conditions that have been noted to have chilling effects on media practice.

On the other hand, most journalists have remained patriotic to their core calling and brought us stories of hope, Kenyans coping with the difficulty conditions they are going through. They unearthed massive scandals in public and private spheres, exposing human rights violations and contributing to holding duty- bearers accountable.

As we start 2019, its important for practitioners and journalists to look and listen to the issues of content consumers are raising, especially relating to the disunity amongst professional associations working on media-related issues These have made the sector more vulnerable to attacks, eroded their bargaining power, thus resulting in poor remuneration and a dearth of professional ethics and credibility.

The January 30, 2018, media shutdown by the government and the resultant cracks within the Kenya Editors Guild and Media Owners Association leadership are just a few glaring examples.

There were also cases of failure by the media to report accurately on public interest issues, violations of journalists’ code of ethics, mishandling of information given by sources, package content that resonates with the audience mode and failure to engage in constructive journalism.

In the New Year, journalists, while keeping to their traditional roles, must move with times and accommodate emerging issues in the profession and from the audience.

We cannot do the same things routinely and expect different results. The prevailing hard economic times and dwindling revenues from advertisement call for a new way of doing things. Content must become the king, and it can only do so if it resonates with the audience. More than ever, media must invest in research, quality journalism and content.

Media must minimise conflicts with the law, for a number of media houses are losing huge amounts of money through defamation and related suits. Articles 34 through Article 35 give special and extensive coverage though they also include responsibilities as well as a challenges.

The Constitution has given every citizen the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom to seek, receive or impart information or ideas; freedom of artistic creativity; and academic freedom and freedom of scientific research. However, it has also limited this freedom so as it does not include propaganda for war,incitement to violence,hate speech or advocacy of hatred that may constitute ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm.

Journalists must also familiarise themselves with Article 10 of the Constitution, which requires upholding of the national values and principles of governance that include national unity, democracy and public participation. Media must promote diversity and plurality through their content.

The 2022 succession politics, referendum, the Big Four agenda, corruption and related issues will cloud the media, yes, but the debates must go beyond the usual faces and culprits. More Kenyans should participate in the national conversations and constructive voices given a voice in the narratives.

Journalists’ work involves being a diligent purveyor — as trustee — of facts and information emanating from all segments of the society. In each respect, the media is expected to be purveying in a patriotic way, information that is truthful and helpful to public accountability and transparency. This promotes checks and balances. Media must guide the debates within the professional lenses including taking responsibility and being accurate to avert misinformation.

The issue of corruption in media must be addressed and tackled immediately, since it has led to loss of credibility amongst journalists — and trust of the people.

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