The year 2018 has 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 that press freedom in Kenya is currently under threat.
Challenges noted include misapplication of the legal regime against the media, editorial influencing by corporates/owners and advertisers, physical threats to media practitioners, credibility and professional concerns including corruption and misinformation, and poor working conditions that have been noted to having chilling effects on media practice.
On the other hand, journalists have remained patriotic to the core calling and brought us stories of hope, Kenyans coping with the difficult conditions they are going through, unearthing massive scandals in both public and private spheres, exposing human rights violations in the country and contributing to holding duty bearers accountable.
As we start 2019, its important that the wake of the shrinking space for media practice and the mob justice approach being meted on media practitioners, journalists relook and listen to the issues consumers are raising especially relating to the disunity amongst professional associations working on media related issues which have made the sector more vulnerable to attacks, eroded their bargaining power thus poor remunerations and dearth of professional ethics and credibility.
Events including the January 30, 2018 media shut down by the government on live transmission of the oath taking ceremony leader of the Opposition and the resultant cracks emerged within the leadership of the Kenya Editors Guild and Media Owners Association, many cases of failure by the media to report accurately on public interest issues, incidences of violations of the code of ethics for the practice of journalism in Kenya, mishandling of information given by sources, package content that resonates with audience mode and engage in constructive journalism are just a few examples where we have not lived to our professional expectation.
As we usher in a 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, calls for 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 before, media must invest in research and quality journalism and content.
Media must minimise conflicts with the law, for a number of them are losing huge amounts of money through defamation and related suits.
Articles 34 through Article 35 gives special and extensive coverage though they also include responsibilities as well as challenges.
Even though 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, it has also limited this freedom so as it does not include: propaganda for war; incitement to violence; hate speech; or advocacy of hatred which may constitute ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm.
Journalists must also familiarise themselves with Article 10 of the Constitution that 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 and corruption will cloud the media, yes, but the debates must go beyond the usual faces and culprits.
More Kenyans should be allowed to participate in the national conservations, and constructive voices given a voice in the narratives.
Journalists work involves his being a diligent purveyor – as trustee – of facts and information emanating from the 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 is for checks and balances reasons. 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. Corruption has led to loss of credibility amongst journalists- and trust from people. We must work to restore this credibility and trust from people, otherwise, we will have ourselves to blame. News from our journalists has become very predictable – those with access and money influence and dominate our news.
The issue of professionalism and adherence to professional ethics as provided for in the law must be revisited. Journalists seem to have abandoned their ethics and write stories that lack facts are biased and lacking in objectivity.
Journalists must continue to engage with duty bearers, seek information using the access to information law, do joint ventures and focus more on constructive journalism through problem solving stories, localize our content to speak to our audiences and invest more in research and investigative journalists.
The industry must invest in quality journalism, by hiring more professionals not firing, and look for revenue outside the traditional sources.
This year we must seek to practice constructive journalism; journalism that seeks to describe events and developments in a holistic manner and to give hope for developments that can address concerns and problems facing people.
Content must be factual, localised and offer solution, predict future trends and interpret for the audiences, include coping mechanisms and how others solved a similar challenge elsewhere.
Kenyans should also appreciate the environment in which media is operating and offer support through sharing information, documents and constructive criticisms.
We must allow journalists exercise their professional discretion, while those charged with advising government on policy matters, work on a media policy for the country.
(Bwire works at the Media Council of Kenya)