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KEG – WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY STATEMENT

WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY STATEMENT
MAY 3RD, 2019

CONFRONTING THREATS TO INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM

The World Press Freedom Day is a key annual event in the calendar of the media worldwide. It is a day for us and those who cherish the freedom of the Press to celebrate independent journalism and its contribution to the advancement of society even as we reflect on the challenges journalists and media institutions face in the ever changing socio-political and economic environment.

The Kenya Editors’ Guild joins the rank of journalists worldwide in taking stock of the media landscape with a view to building on the gains made while seeking to remedy areas where crucial ground has been lost.

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 First Threat is the sustainability question

We have seen the emergence of a fairly robust media in Kenya over the years. Our media houses have over time proven to be fairly successful operators in the local, national and global ecosystem enabling them to generate resources internally to support journalism. However, 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.

Unfortunately, there are interests – some government, some political, some commercial – that are hell-bent on exploiting these systemic challenges to undermine media freedom. A few must be mentioned: The Government Advertising Agency was created in controversial circumstances as a clearing house 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. As media leaders, we must find ways to ensure government advertising drives development of the industry as opposed to being a poisoned chalice. We must also mention commercial interests that seek to exploit the challenges in the media business to extract undue advantages. Their actions constitute an affront to media freedom as enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution.

The Second Threat 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.

Depending on the coverage we accorded news events, journalists have variously been seen as biased by sharply-divided political antagonists who are only too eager to blame us 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. It’s a shame that such tendencies have recently been witnessed at the National Assembly, where an MP stormed the media centre seeking to “discipline” a journalist she believed had written an inaccurate story. We are a society of decency and rule of law – any aggrieved parties have clear recourse in law, and should, among others petition the Media Complaints Commission for action.

Together with other media entities such as the Media Council of Kenya, the Kenya Union of Journalists, the Association of Media Women in Kenya, and others, we have decided that newsroom safety is non-negotiable. Perpetrators of threats and attacks against journalists must be held accountable. A newsroom safety protocol has been developed under the Kenya Media Stakeholders Working Group and will be promoted aggressively amongst members.

The Third Threat 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 its systemic. The Guild’s Executive Council has chosen to confront this question on an ongoing basis and recently established an Ethics Committee to guide editors.

We have also opened conversation with the journalism schools to ensure their curriculum is geared to prepare students for the reality prevailing in the industry. We continue to insist that the teaching of ethics and journalistic values for public interest must be central.

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. Rolled into this should be a robust peer review of media performance. This will help our profession develop and inspire more public trust.

Given the foregoing, the Fourth Threat is brought about by delayed legal and policy reforms

Our media operates in an ever-changing environment. 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; we should not allow situations where ambulance chasers orchestrate extremely high defamation penalties against media houses; we should be concerned that, 10 years after the Constitution asked for it, the Government us yet to transform the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation into a public broadcaster. And, we must find ways to ensure that a reasonable portion of value created through media work is reinvested to develop the industry – on this score, policy must focus on international players who do not pay taxes yet walk away with sizeable audience attention.

In conclusion, on behalf of editors, we commit to professional standards, enshrined in our Code of Conduct and underpinned by fidelity to accuracy and verification. This exercise of editorial responsibility must only serve the utmost public good in Kenya’s growth and development.

Issued in NAIVASHA on May 1st, 2019
For and on behalf of the Kenya Editors’ Guild

Churchill Otieno
President

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