NAIROBI, Kenya, May 3 – UK Minister for Africa James Duddridge has underscored the importance of a free media as a critical part of an open society, even if politicians may not always like it.
Addressing a regional virtual media event hosted by the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) on Monday, the Minister hailed journalists for their role in informing the public particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused drastic economic disruptions around the globe.
He spoke at one of the events planned in Kenya, to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, whose theme is Information as a Public Good, a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information and exploring ways of advancing transparency and journalist empowerment.
“Despite the considerable challenges of the past year, we have been working through the Coalition and through our partners, including UNESCO, to improve the safety of journalists and fight against impunity for the crimes committed against them,” he said.
In Kenya, he pointed out that UK High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott has been building a support network of female journalists.
“Our elections programme has a component on media monitoring, on elections reporting, monitoring hate speech, and supporting the elections commission in their media outreach,” he added.
On his part, KEG President Churchill Otieno cautioned that the media might suffer more, if the public trust is lost, for failing to highlight their plight.
“The job at hand is not an easy one because if we don’t do the journalism that is said to be independent and that speaks to the interests of our people, if our media does not grow the trust the public has in it, we will die a slow poor death,” he cautioned. “If we do our job right, the media get to align the needs of our people, they (the people) will stand with us, but it will also invite concerns and essentially an invitation to the powerful and privileged to be unhappy with us. I think that is a better problem.”
Nation Media Group Chief Executive Officer Stephen Gitagama called for more capacity building for journalists, to ensure they produce quality work.
His challenge to journalists is to acquire relevant skills, “for today’s world. Address the gaps that you have, and you will be in business.”
He decried to what he termed as “significant reduction in productivity of some journalists over the years” while attributing to “complacency.”
“Some bit of complacency has cropped in and maybe because some of them are not here as a calling.”
University of Nairobi lecturer Prof. George Nyabuga said there is a need for more safety measures to ensure journalists are not attacked while executing their mandate.
He also highlighted the key outcomes of a series of stakeholders meeting drawn from 13 countries, on what is needed to promote press freedom including the need to review the curriculum, in a bid to seal in the existing gaps.
This, he said, will result in a better-equipped media student, fit to respond to the current and emerging needs in the media sector.
“We know that there is a difference between what we teach the students and what happens in the newsrooms,” he said.
Some of the recommendations from the virtual meeting are the need to amend archaic laws that stifle press freedom and the need for tax breaks and stimulus packages for the media sector, as a way to cushion them from the effects of economic meltdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi has called on Media owners in Kenya to ensure that journalists are well paid so as to protect their integrity.
Speaking during the World Press Freedom Day celebrations at a Nairobi Hotel, Muturi says journalists ought to be paid well to protect themselves from being captives of government and news sources.
“Today is my day to ask media owners to pay our children, reporters and correspondents very well. They deserve it. These people go extra mile to get us the stories. Pay them well first and then demand integrity,” Muturi said amid rising cases of integrity issues among journalists in what is mainly attributed to poor pay that has been made worse by the COVID-19 economic meltdown.