Wednesday, 11 June 2014 14:35

Media in Kenya still chasing for press freedom

Written by HENRY OWINO

As the globe marked the World Press Freedom Day in early month of May, Kenya’s media had no much to celebrate about this day. The safety of journalists covering sensitive stories and unearthing it to the public remains a big challenge in Kenya.

 

Media houses are up to date struggling to be let free to broadcast or publish stories without any state interference. Though the Constitution provides for this freedom of access and disseminates information to the public, in reality it is not reflected. 

According to Macharia Gaitho, chairman of Kenya Editors Guild, as much as the President says he supports media freedom, his commitments and actions do not reflects the reality. Gaitho said the President’s speech perturbed him particularly criticism of Kenyan media. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta was the keynote speaker as he officially opened a two days regional Journalists Convention held at Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), to mark World Press Freedom Day.

“Media in Kenya do not enjoy absolute freedom of publication and broadcast as they wish because of irresponsible handling of certain information. So it is the mandate of the Government under the Ministry of Information and Communication to defend those who cannot protect themselves against media,” Uhuru said.

According to Gaitho, media in Kenya does not enjoy their freedom as it may appear to others . He noted that rhetoric expression must reflect what is on the ground.  

Gaitho noted: “If it were so, then media would not have been in Court of Law fighting for their rights, space and freedom today.”

He added that despite Articles 33-35 of the Constitution giving media the mandate to charge their duties freely, the government still piles pressure on media houses to force compliance and kills critical reports and commentaries.

“Freedom of press means much more not just word of mouth. This must be seen by action,  commitment  and felt in the newsrooms or media houses,” Gaitho alluded. He added: “Kenya media cannot  properly celebrate this occasion when under threat of oppressive media laws.” 

According to Gaitho, organizations that should fight for media freedom are being washed watered down as government plants its foot-soldiers in them.

He pointed out Media Council Act and Kenya Information and Communications Act that target to take away the established system of self-regulation.

Additionally, he anticipated this would only bring back the dictatorial structures of the State to control the media.

Kenya Correspondents’ Association (KCA) and Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) among other powerful media bodies are targeted as well. The foot-soldiers are now fighting to take control for supremacy.

These are some of the setbacks within media industry and so journalists feel unprotected. Gaitho regretted that critics are so many that media are under pressure to tow to their selfish motives so as to compromise on its watchdog role on government mistakes, corruption and excesses “Obsession of media control from certain centres of power is of cause so rife just like in politics, but in media, it must make profit no matter what the story it carries,” Gaitho observed. He noted: “Self-regulation is key if media is to monitor government hence the fight for press freedom though limited now.”

Echoing Gaitho’s sentiments, David Ohito, vice chairman of Kenya Editors Guild said media will not tire on its fight for freedom. He said the world is marking Press Freedom yet in Kenya nothing tangible would be seen and celebrate about.

Ohito stated that media remains the most trusted institution in Kenya and through it, the public gets to know what is happening. He reiterated that the fight for press freedom in Kenya will not end until such a time it is gained. 

“In Kenya nothing comes easy and we shall continue fighting for this space regardless of how many times we appear in court. We shall be appearing again soon in court towards the end of this month (May) just for press to operate freely,” Ohito clarified. 

Henry Maina, Director of Article 19 East and Horn of Africa mentioned that journalists especially correspondents in Kenya work under fear due to threats from certain politicians and heavy weight business people.

Maina gave examples of journalists from Western Kenya whose lives are in danger for disclosing corrupt business deals and cartels in agriculture industry such as coffee and sugar. He stated that the journalists received threatening information and had to go underground for months, noting that some had no otherwise but change their residence for fear of their dear lives. To make matters worse, none of the suspected cartels who had issued death threats have been summoned or arrested .

“Journalists in Kenya work under unfavourable environmental conditions poorly paid with all manner of threats let alone limited space of press freedom,” said Maina. He reiterated: “It is high time media owners realize these and make life better for their employees.”

According to Maina, the government must guarantee them this yearned for press freedom in reality.On the other hand, media in Kenya has made tremendous steps forward since the country attained its independence in 1963. From a single State owned national broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) to hundreds of privately own stations today.

This has opened up more space for divergent views of information and eliminated monopoly of one station dominancy. The variety of media outlets has come with constant information updates as result urgency.

Freedom of expression, views, opinions and employment opportunities among other factors are some the advantages it brought forth.

However, these local media outlets are owned by non-governmental organisations, religious institutions communities, and politicians so they have several challenges. Competition has led to unverified information, biased news content depending on ownership, advertisers, sales and profits preferences among others.

This has, therefore, contributed greatly to irresponsible journalism ethics and code of conduct. Again it leads to limitation of well researched information and promotes nepotism in terms of  employment opportunities. Merits is most cases are compromised hence payments as none professionaljournalists are hired.

Prof Levi Obonyo, Dean of Communication, Language and Performing Art at Daystar university,challenged media houses that freedom is never given but contested.

He disclosed that days of yellow journalism is gone and today it is based on creativity and research with facts.

“Media houses never sell news anymore but depend on stories that would raise revenues from any corner of the world,” Obonyo noted.

He urged journalists to stop being enemies of their own and instead work hand in hand to pursue the common goal they are called for which is informing and educating the public.

Mutegi Njau, a Senior Editor and Citizen TV host said journalists must remain relevant to the profession by ensuring that their stories are objective. He stated that any media house that encourages subjectivity or biasness in its coverage, denies the public certain information. 

Njau called upon journalists to work professionally so that they can enjoy self-regulation.

“Any media that is irresponsible in its duties cannot be allowed to operate freely on its own unless information being disseminated is not for public consumption. Media is trusted and anything they say, it is taken as ‘Gospel truth’ hence needs to be careful with what it communicates to the public,” Njau advised.

The Media Council of Kenya that is directly mandated with the welfare of media houses and journalists spearheaded the regional world press freedom held in Nairobi, Kenya. At least ten countries from Africa were represented this year’s two days regional journalists Convention for World Press Freedom in Kenya.


 This article was originally published in the Reject 

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