NAIROBI, Kenya, May 3 – From murders, arbitrary arrests, job losses and the shrinking democratic space in which journalists operate, there was clearly nothing to celebrate for journalists as the world marks Press Freedom Day.
Across the world, journalists are increasingly targeted. This has made their work so difficult and a struggle on a daily basis to defend their democratic space so as to guard “information as a public good”.
This is the theme for this year’s Press Freedom Day.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of journalists murdered in retaliation for their work more than doubled in 2020, as criminal gangs and militant groups targeted reporters working in violent but democratic nations.
Globally, CPJ said, at least 30 journalists were killed in 2020; 21 of those were singled out for murder in retaliation for their work, a jump from the previous year’s 10 murders, while others were killed in combat or crossfire or on another assignment that turned dangerous. One media worker was also killed. Mexico, Afghanistan, and the Philippines had the most retaliatory killings.
CPJ is still investigating the deaths of 15 other journalists worldwide to determine whether journalism was the motive. The numbers reflect the period from January 1 to December 15, 2020, and the total killings compare with 26 journalists killed with a confirmed motive in all of 2019. Last year’s number was the lowest total killings in CPJ’s records since 2000.
While murders rose in 2020, the number of combat-related deaths—three—dropped to the lowest level since 2000, as the intensity of conflicts in the Middle East abated and the COVID-19 pandemic dominated media attention and made it difficult for journalists to travel. All three of the journalists were killed documenting the continuing conflict near Idlib in northern Syria, and perished in airstrikes by suspected Russian forces allied with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Apart from the killings targeted at journalists at work, media sustainability is another main challenge facing their industry.
In the wake of the COVUD-19 pandemic, the survival of media which mainly rely on advertisements is increasingly threatened leading to near-closures of several stations after mass sackings.
In Kenya, most media houses were forced to effect up to 50 per cent pay cuts.
The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) and the Kenya Editors Guid (KEG) have organised a series of events to mark the World Press Freedom Day.
It started with KEG’S 5-day virtual conference in collaboration with similar organisations in the region that started on April 29.
“As the region reflects on media, our burden is shared globally. The world has resolved to focus on economic viability of news media, the transparency of Internet companies, and enhanced media and information literacy that enable people to value, defend and demand journalism as a vital part of information as a public good. There is hope.”
Churchill Otieno – President, Kenya Editors Guild.
Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) Secretary-General Eric Odour said: “We need to think of a stimulus package that is supported by the government. We also need a media sustainability fund to help the media conduct training, mentorship and research. We need to lobby the govt to come up with this fund.”
On if the media can address financial challenges and remain independent, he said, media sustainability debate can only be viable if we fix working conditions of journalists to attract and retain talent and necessary skills as a priority,”
Cheryl Akinyi from the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa said the media must come up with a different financing model.
“Resilience and innovation are going to be the name of the game as we look ahead. But it is all talk if we do not put our money where the mouth is,” Akinyi said.
Her sentiments were echoed by Bernard Ogoi from the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR).
“With technology disrupting traditional media business models, can the media and media development partners consider a media sustainability fund that can help support struggling media houses?” Ogoi posed.
Jelimo Chelagat, from Internews Kenya added that, “the media is a business and it needs to keep its doors open. It needs to operate sustainably. With technology however, there is an emergence of people who repurpose news already published by the legacy media.”
On gender, there were calls form more women representation in the media industry.
“Women need to be represented in the media. The need for gender inclusivity is critical. We need to have women in our sphere to have a balanced world view,” Mustapha Dumbuya from the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) said.
The theme of the 2021 celebrations is Information as a Public Good, which is a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information and exploring ways of advancing transparency and journalist empowerment.
“The theme for this year’s celebration is a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information & exploring what can be done in the production, distribution,and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind,” the MCK said in a statement.
The Press Freedom Day celebration coincides with the 30th year anniversary of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press, which led the United Nations to proclaim World Press Freedom Day in 1993.
The main conference for Kenya’s celebrations was organised by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) at the Serena Hotel in the capital Nairobi to be addressed by Speaker of the national Assembly Justin Muturi, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Principal Secretary Esther Koimett, MCK’s Chairman Maina Muiruri, CEO David Omwoyo among other stakeholders including top editors and journalists in the country.