Last week, on May 3rd, media stakeholders worldwide celebrated the World Press Freedom Day. This is a day which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
This is an important celebration for media practitioners, citizens and governments around the world. Governments have a duty to respect their commitment to press freedom while media professionals should equally take lead about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. In a democracy, the people have the right to know the happenings. The press serves as a watchdog. If there’s something the people should know, you can bet that journalists will be or should be reporting on it.
Journalists have the responsibility of reporting and educating the masses. The media can bear legitimate criticism when it acts in bad faith, but the answer is not to suppress the freedom of the press.
Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, stated the importance of the press:“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
According to Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, All States, all nations, are strengthened by information, debate and the exchange of opinions. Audrey further emphasized the need to guarantee freedom of opinion through the free exchange of ideas and information based on factual truths.
In Kenya, the Media Council of Kenya brought together media stakeholders in Naivasha where the findings on a study on the status of the media in Kenya were shared followed by discussions on the status of the media. In a statement, the Kenya Editor’s Guild identified the sustainability question, harassment and attacks on journalists, weakness in ethical practice and delayed legal and policy reforms as key threats to independent journalism in Kenya.
The 2019 World Press Freedom Index ranks Kenya 100th out of 180, with a score of 32.44 in press freedom. The position marks a drop of four spots compared to the country’s previous ranking, a clear indicator that more needs to be done to promote press freedom/ independent journalism.
Over the past years, Kenyan journalists have faced challenges including physical attacks, intimidation, arrests and harassment- thus undermining press freedom. This should explain our drop in the World Press Freedom Index.
Key constitutional provisions that support press freedom in the Constitution of Kenya include articles 33 on Freedom of expression, 34 on Freedom of the media and 35 on Access to Information. While a lot of emphasis has been placed (by media organisations) on freedom of expression and media, a strong Access to information system is vital to maintaining a healthy democracy. Access to timely and accurate information provides individuals with the knowledge required to participate effectively in the democratic processes in any democratic society. It fosters openness and transparency. Media should therefore take a leading role towards its implementation.
The sad bit is how the complaints against such acts are handled. In most cases, either the process to get the perpetrators takes too long or simply the cases are not followed up by relevant authorities. For instance, cases of journalists who lost their lives in 2015 and 2009 are still unresolved.
There should be deliberate efforts by the government to protect freedom of the press as provided for by the constitution. Incidents that undermine press freedom should be profiled by all stakeholders so that decisive action is taken against the culprits. This will discourage
It is also high time that media houses take the issue of safety and security of journalists as one of their key responsibility by investing in continuous training and relevant safety kits. It is encouraging that most media houses in Kenya are working towards this.