NAIROBI, Kenya, May 2 – President Mwai Kibaki has challenged the media to demonstrate objectivity, balance and sensitivity in news coverage particularly in this period of competitive politics in the country.
President Kibaki said the media, through their coverage of political activities, was duty-bound to spearhead peace initiatives that enhance national cohesion and integration in the countdown to the general elections.
Speaking during the official opening of the three-day East African Journalists Convention at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) in Nairobi, the President enumerated Kenyans’ expectations of the media to play its educative and informative roles in Kenya and Africa.
“As we approach the forthcoming elections, we expect the media to be at the forefront in informing and educating Kenyans on various electoral matters so that they can make informed choices of leaders,” said the Head of State.
President Kibaki however expressed concern over the vulgar talk on some radio programmes and obscene scenes on television during family viewing time.
He appealed to the Media Council of Kenya and other relevant agencies to provide leadership by discouraging negative and immoral content and instead promote positive and intellectual programmes that were of value to the audience.
The President, at the same time, challenged the African media to help sell the continent to the world by reporting on the continent’s beauty, the resilience of the people, economic transformation and the deep cultural attributes.
He reminded African journalists that their reporting on the positive side of the continent would shape the attitudes, biases and opinions of the international media.
“Always bear this in mind because we need to start preparing the world for the days ahead, as Africa slowly but surely begins taking its rightful place on the international platform. Help the world capture the true picture of this significant moment. This will be your contribution to Africa since you are the first chronicle of history,” observed he.
He pledged continued Government support to media freedom guided by fair and responsible reporting as outlined in the country’s new Constitution.
President Kibaki praised the Kenyan media for being among the most vibrant in the world with diversity of content, plurality of ownership and cultural materials that socialise people to take responsibility in nation building.
On social media, the Head of State urged users of new media across the continent to exercise their freedoms responsibly and use such platforms to promote development, peace and cohesion.
“Our young people should especially view new media as modern empowering tools and not avenues to corrupt their morals”, he observed.
Terming media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information as necessary pillars for a free democratic society, the President encouraged the Convention to interrogate through opening discussions all major issues that are relevant for the continent.
“The convergence of press freedom and freedom of expression, through various traditional as well as new media, has given rise to an extraordinary level of media freedom. It has enabled citizens to bring about massive social and political transformations,” he said.
Observing that information and telecommunications technology has enabled the diffusion of vital information to a large number of people in a very short span of time, President Kibaki noted with gratitude that Kenya is ranked second on the African continent in the use of the social networking site, Twitter with Face Book users in approaching two million.
This rapid growth of technology use, the Head of State stated, promised to transform and enable the emergence of new ways to communicate, share information and knowledge, and for people to widen their sense of participation, identity and belonging.
With regard to access to information as a prerequisite to media freedom, President Kibaki reassured that the government as the custodian of public information would ensure relevant information including public spending was made accessible the media.
The President assured: “Public information is a common public good, with the Government acting as its custodian. It should, therefore, be made easily and readily available. We are determined to ensure that this happens in Kenya.”
The launch of open data portal last year being the first of its kind in Africa , President Kibaki said, was part of improving transparency and access to information in Government.
Indeed, access to information is a necessary prerequisite to media freedom. It is also a necessary tool for ensuring transparency of public information, including public spending, so as to curb corruption.
Addressing the same forum, Information and Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio underscored that the bold step by the government to guarantee freedom of press had paid dividend in the country adding that the entire world was taking lessons from Kenya.
He noted that the government and media had been able to forge a close working relationship underpinned by the principle of self-regulation and with the common purpose of championing development in the country.
Poghisio, however, challenged media owners own their part to guarantee vital freedoms to media professionals who work in their organizations especially the freedom to train and upgrade their skills so as to execute their duties impartially and with the depth expected of them in rapidly changing world.
Others who addressed the regional convention included Information and Communications Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo, UN Resident Representative Aeneas Chuma, Chairman and Executive Director of Media Council of Kenya Prof Levi Obonyo and Haron Mwangi respectively.
In attendance were acting Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Kimemia, Acting Internal Security Permanent Secretary Mutea Iringo, representatives of media owners, Board Members of the Media Council and other stakeholders in the media industry.