, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 18 – President Mwai Kibaki has re-affirmed the Government’s commitment to upholding the freedom of media in order to create an open and information-empowered society.
In his address while officially opening the Pan Africa Media Conference at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) on Thursday, President Kibaki asserted that the local media has enjoyed greater freedom for the past seven years than in any other time in history of the country.
Point out that increased freedom had led to unprecedented increase in the number of media outlets in the country, President Kibaki, however, cautioned that media must at all times be responsible and uphold key pillars of journalism, particularly tolerance and objectivity.
He urged players in the media industry to be guided by public good while executing their unique roles of informing, educating and entertaining the society because they hold the communication channels as custodians of the public good.
“In appreciation of the crucial role of the media here in Kenya, the Government has in the last seven years remained committed to the creation of an open society anchored on a free media. Consequently, the media has enjoyed greater freedom than at any other time in the history of our country. This has resulted in an unprecedented increase in the number of media outlets," he said.
He added: "For example in 1999 there were 16 radio stations mainly operated by the national broadcaster and 8 television stations. Today, we have 80 radio stations on air around the country and 19 television stations.”
The Head of State noted that media has a duty to disseminate reliable information that would shape the society positively and help the public to make informed decisions.
He acknowledged, “It is to this public that you owe the need to pass on information that will help shape societies of informed and responsible individuals capable of making rational decisions.”
During the occasion President Kibaki challenged the media to invent captivating ways of championing and promoting the tremendous achievements that the African continent has accomplished.
He told media practitioners to resist the temptation of being Afro-pessimists who think nothing good can come out of Africa adding that the continent has managed to overcome its challenges in shorter periods than the developed when they were faced by similar challenges.
The President urged the media to shift their focus now on the emerging relations between Africa and its external partners particularly the South-South cooperation which will herald new global dynamics in the near future.
“As leaders, we also look up to the media to help in promoting the gains we have made as a continent. You must avoid the easy temptation to be Afro-pessimists, who think nothing good can come out of Africa. Undoubtedly, we have had our share of challenges,” the President said.
Citing the case of the East African Community, President Kibaki noted that media is best placed to promote awareness, discourse and lively debate on EAC and asked them to take deliberate interest in the region’s integration agenda.
President Kibaki acknowledged, “The Pan Africa Media conference is taking place at a significant moment in the development of the East African Region. In East Africa, the process of regional integration has deepened with the signing of the Common Market protocol. Today, the East African Community comprises a large and robust market with a population of 125 million people and a combined GDP of $70 billion. This endowment offers our region a unique opportunity to become a lucrative economic hub in Africa. Personally, I am excited and positive about the prospects for our region.”
Noting that EAC was the most advanced regional bloc in Africa, President Kibaki invited the media to engage stakeholders in the region and rally support from citizens in the region as other countries seek members in the body or try to replicate the model.
He said, “It is in this context that we appeal for closer engagement and partnership with the media. The Media is best positioned to promote awareness, discourse and a lively conversation with the broad range of stakeholders in our region. The media should, therefore, take deliberate interest in our region’s integration agenda.”
With regard to media management, the President noted that although the debate raises heated debate in many countries he affirmed that the government was keen on building consensus among stakeholders and negotiating various proposals put forward.
“At the end of the day, professionalism in the industry can only be achieved if the media stakeholders in general made it their issue to regulate the industry. Solutions must be found and the Government stands ready to negotiate,” said the Head of State.
Noting that the Conference offered an opportunity for participants to reflect on the past, present and future prospects of media in Africa against a background of several challenges and opportunities, President Kibaki appreciated that technology had revolutionized communication globally.
He expressed happiness that the participants would also spend time in discussing how the new media tools could be used to deepen democracy on the African continent.
President Kibaki observed, “The increased access to mobile phones and the internet has given rise to new media that resonates well with our young population. However even those of us born before the computer age, appreciate the contribution of these new avenues of communication. Indeed, the advent of citizen journalism has become possible because of tools such as SMS, blogs, and social networking websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Myspace.”
He commended the Nation Media Group and its staffers for their contribution in making Kenya an epitome of media freedom in the continent as it celebrated its 50th Anniversary since its founding by His Highness the Aga Khan.
The President said, “I congratulate all those who have played a part in the growth of the Media Group. I salute the many men and women who have chronicled our history and heralded the future prospects and challenges of our country and region. These men and women have sought to define our place in a global village as new technologies bring to life what looked almost impossible in yesteryears.”
President Kibaki at the same time thanked the African Media Initiative for choosing to set up their head office in Kenya and promised them government support in the execution of their mandate.
His Highness the Aga Khan in his address echoed President Kibaki’s sentiments on responsible journalism and challenged the media to guard against partisan agendas and instead perform their roles effectively in nurturing young democracies in Africa.
In a paper ‘Media and the Africa promise – lessons learnt in the last 50 years of Nation Media Group and Modern Journalism in Africa, and the voices that have been locked out and need to be heard’ His Highness the Aga Khan said Africa had the capacity to utilize the new technologies for the good of the continent.
He asked the media to exercise the rights of expression without infringing on the rights of others and strive to give credit to Africa’s positive initiatives.
He announced plans to establish a Graduates Media School in Nairobi to offer continued learning and other advanced courses aimed at promoting ethical media practices.
Information and Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio urged the media to improve on their analytical reporting as they effectively play the role of agenda setters in economic development.
While announcing the landing of the 3rd under-sea fibre optic cable in Mombasa later this month, the Minister urged the media to use new technologies to keep pace with the world communication advancements.
Mr Poghisio said the media need be guided by the principals of balanced reporting and always shun peddling rumours and unverified information that may in the long run infringe on their readers/viewers rights to truthful information.
Those attending the two-day Pan Africa Media Conference include the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, Joacquim Chissano former President of Mozambique, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and the Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
The two-day conference is jointly hosted by the African Media Initiative and the Nation Media Group which marks its Golden Jubilee this week.