- Through the work of the media, journalists have revealed politicians and people in positions of authority committing fraud to secure favours.
- Journalists have exposed the deception in the delivery of government services, corruption and impunity, vices which are unlawful and undesirable in our society.
As we mark the 2023 World Press Freedom Day and recognize the best-performing journalists in the Annual Journalism Excellence Awards (AJEA), it’s important to make some observations that I have gathered in my long relationship with the media in both legal and political life, and the way I see things as the Speaker of the National Assembly.
Free and independent media is a cornerstone of democracy. At its best, independent media ensures that a country’s government functions openly and transparently and that the rule of law is applied equally to everyone.
Citizens have a right to objective information about the performance of their elected leaders, their state, and their county governments.
The more people can access reliable and credible and objective information, the more they are equipped to make informed choices and hold their leaders and their governments to account.
Your work has provided that.
Through the work of the media, journalists have revealed politicians and people in positions of authority committing fraud to secure favours.
Journalists have exposed the deception in the delivery of government services, corruption and impunity, vices which are unlawful and undesirable in our society.
The work of journalists has raised important questions about “secret” contracts and the non-transparent use of public funds.
On many occasions, journalists have highlighted pertinent issues of interest to our communities and the government has responded or intervened.
A case in point is the rather disturbing incident of the Malindi Church, where a self-styled Pastor misled a congregation to starve to death to meet Jesus. The culprit was apprehended, and the law will take its course.
These examples and many more underscore the value of not just journalism, but also investigative journalism.
I look at journalists as professionals who put their country and community above themselves. They use the pen to speak for others and to amplify the voices of the disenfranchised. That is service.
Free and independent media freedom holds the transformation of societies in ways perhaps unimaginable only a year ago.
It has enabled the emergence of new ways to communicate, share information and knowledge, and for people to widen their sense of participation, identity and belonging.
Media freedom, including online freedom, also plays a dynamic role in the economic transformation of society. Some countries have benefited from such freedom in attracting foreign direct investments.
However, media freedom is undermined by a failure to follow professional ethics and a tendency to stick to adversarial journalism especially targeting the Government.
The traditional professional ethics and editorial independence that once defined a significant segment of traditional media in this country have been abandoned. Journalists must stick to professional ethics and focus on the issue of setting a national agenda or public interest journalism.
To abdicate this responsibility is to subvert the social trust, if not contract, that has been your lifeblood.
The media is more crucial that the three arms of government meet the fourth estate from time to time to promote open exchanges, forge bonds, foster understanding, and build one nation called Kenya.
As the four arms of government, we must reconnect and build the relationships and ties that bind us so concretely that our country remains a key priority in our work.
The citizens of this country are at the heart of Kenya Kwanza manifesto and the government is committed to serving them at all costs.
Allow me tonight – to celebrate men and women who do all this and more - journalists who do a sterling job despite the difficult circumstances and remain independent and credible.
We honour them because of their excellence. We honour them because of their courage. We honour them because of their perseverance. They are heroes.
To paraphrase one American journalist, Jonah Goldberg, “those we honour understand that their mission is not to defend “their” side, or to avoid reporting as a comfort to the “other” side. The focus is, and must be, on the truth”.
But, we have a reason to hope for change. We see in the reporting of those we honour this evening the commitment to fight back, even against great odds, to make a difference for all the people of Kenya.
To the brave journalists here tonight, I know that it is difficult to stand up in the face of concerted efforts to silence you.
To the editors and media representatives, I want to thank you for providing your journalists with the means to develop accurate, well-corroborated stories and to report them to the public.
I hope you will continue to support and enable your reporters to do the good journalism that is so important to this country and its citizens. They deserve nothing less.
I want to indicate here and without fear of contradiction that as the spear of the National Assembly, I am committed to the protection of media freedom, and will not allow the use of the August House to pass laws that are inimical to media freedom.
In the same vein, I want to encourage the media industry to engage my office and Parliament to work on improving the legal and policy framework for both media freedom and sustainability.
The Writer is the Speaker of the National Assembly.