MEDIA IN KENYA

Press freedom still a mirage

In Summary

• Media is fast losing the population’s trust. Political capture of airwaves fuelled by the big-man syndrome drives the headlines. Real issues are then discussed as ‘a by the way’

• We have to say no to underrepresentation of women and women’s voices when it matters

On May 3, the world all over marked Press Freedom Day; a day where we take stock of the strides we have made as far as media freedom is concerned.

We celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty. In simple terms, it’s a day we ask ourselves, where are we? Have we made any progress since last year?

This year’s theme was ‘Media for Democracy; Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation’. An international conference was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from May 1-3. The global meet provided a platform for actors to exchange thoughts and ideas on issues, threats and achievements on press freedom.

A number of events were happening locally that brought together stakeholders with a common vision to enhance the enjoyment of rights for members of the Fourth Estate and to chart the critical paths that will lead to the achievement of press freedom.

These include, first, reviewing the relationship between media and government; which means security forces should apply special guidelines for the treatment of journalists covering sensitive/dangerous assignments. A strategy to improve working relations between police and journalists should be established.

The media plays a critical role in shaping lives and society. The media makes and breaks governments and leadership. It sets standards of ethics, good governance, development agenda; and the media too promotes peace and justice for all.

Second, fiscal blackmail. The government continues to use advertising revenue to ensure newspapers remain uncritical. Advertisers, especially governments and government-owned enterprises, wield huge influence that often allows them to quietly control what is or is not published.

Third, some media houses subordinate journalism to government interest. The government puts pressure on media houses through other interests. We are guilty of playing to the tune of whoever is paying the piper.

Four is media independence, which includes autonomy of professionals from political, commercial and other interests in editorial decisions and coverage.

The watchdog role of the media is to ensure transparency and accountability by exposing policy failures and maladministration by public officers.

However, the watchdog function of the media in Kenya is controlled by the political class and elite. Official sources who drive the news agenda undermine the watchdog function as it has become increasingly difficult for the press to uphold a sceptical eye on prevailing matters.

We need to see more being done to enhance better protection of press freedom; which is a human right.

This includes strict enforcement of the law on media violations, improving ethnic and regional balance in public and private service, particularly in media spaces, and better remuneration for reporters and correspondents, especially those at the county levels.

Gender mainstreaming is a fundamental value in media and press freedom. We have to say no to gross underrepresentation of women and women’s voices when it matters most.

We cannot talk about press freedom without a diversity of voices. When one woman in media is unavailable say for a panel discussion, that space can only be replaced by another woman. We must be deliberate about this.

We must think about psychological effects of online violence against journalists, especially women. Have you noticed how many women journalists are battered online every day? The negative stereotypical undertones against female journalists is the order of the day on social media.

We need to put in place a structured national civic education programme to empower citizens to take an active role in governance and promotion of press freedom.

The media plays a critical role in shaping lives and society. The media makes and breaks governments and leadership. It sets standards of ethics, good governance, development agenda; and the media too promotes peace and justice for all.

It is, therefore, critical for media in Kenya to re-evaluate itself. It is clear that media is fast losing the trust of the population. Political capture of airwaves fuelled by the big-man syndrome drives the headlines. Real issues are then discussed as ‘a by the way’, which should not be the case.

Journalist and staff at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.