We are marking the World Press Freedom Day 2020, amid serious challenges facing not just the media, but governments and citizens in various forms. The growing hardships related to bad governance, lack of leadership in various sectors, corruption, non -involvement of citizens in matters concerning them and now the outbreak of the COVID-19, things seem so chaotic and unmanageable for many. And that’s the world is calling for journalism without favour or fear, so that citizen hopes and aspirations are restored through media holding those in leadership accountable.
Media houses are truly constrained by operational and sustainable issues, and like any sector is facing hardships, but journalism should not be sacrificed. Statistics on mass sackings, closure of media enterprises, pay cuts for journalists, non-payment of salaries and wages, pending bills from government, reduced revenues for media businesses, harassment by politicians and security agents among others are some of the challenges facing the profession and industry. Alternative support mechanisms should be sought to ensure professional and public interest journalism flourishes.
As seen from the few COVID-19 related incidents following the cessation of movement directive by the Government, declaration of a national curfew and a host of directives from the Ministry of Health, a number of people have continued disregarding these rules ending up in forced quarantine. This shows there is a general distrust between the government and its people. This chasm has grown so large to the extent that the citizens do not believe anything the government tells them. The growing discontentment has led to people not trusting media by extension because they relate them to certain government individuals, politicians or investors related to either the opposition or the ruling party.
In a society that is fast becoming techno-savvy and educated, people see and remember. So what we are left with is a society reporting on itself. Where everyone is judge, jury and prosecutor on everything since the people supposed to do this important role of providing leadership and helping citizens seem to be failing. When government communication seems coming late or appear non-satisfactory merely because of strategy and not because of corruption or ineptitude, including on the part of established media house, seemingly wrong but fast information from alternative sources including online platforms, is essentially living on gossip rather than fact, on fake news rather than real news, prevails. This is dangerous.
In this COVID-19 pandemic era, where fact, verified information and truth are essential, the rift only grows larger. It is easy to ask anyone of their opinion on the COVID-19 status of the country and everyone will tell you the same thing, the government is lying, the facts are being hidden by those in power, that this is just some other ploy by the government to rob us of more money, to leave us in debt. True or false, this is an old wound that is now beginning to fester. This is the ultimate test for a community that was just starting to realize the power of their voices.
Dealing with unbelieving citizens, bombarded with all manner of information from all sources, creates a problem for the Government and the media. It has created some mistrust and a negative perception of what is happening in the country, which must be dealt with. It is easy to see the results of this fight. It’s not that citizens hate the government or the media as such, but the frustrations reach a point where citizens everything and everybody as an enemy. A people who are facing a myriad of problems like in Budalangi, where its floods, COVID-19 and crop failure, the citizens, do not believe even when the facts are all laid down on the table.
This is the time for the media to take back their voice because this is not the time to fight but to come together. Media and must work to build trust with the citizens through providing critical, factual and topical news, without seeking favors or fearing. The time for true professional journalists is now and the time to fight for the oppressed is today.
Challenges abound but as variously said, journalism is a calling and not for the faint-hearted, and using whatever channels, journalists must continue writing factual public interest piece and the citizens are on their side. As for being loved or liked by audiences and citizens, nobody cares, just do your job and get personal satisfaction by serving humanity.
[By Victor Bwire and Endrian Lupia]