Irony of press freedom day and media in a hostile environment

Monday, May 3rd, 2021 00:00 |
Nakuru-based journalists match along a Nairobi street during a previous World Press Freedom day celebration. Photo/PD/File

Kenya joins the rest of the world to celebrate freedom of the press today under a hostile and uncertain environment for journalists.

Despite numerous public promises by the government to safeguard press freedom, the situation has continued to deteriorate as police and senior state officials, increasingly get away with physical attacks or open threats to journalists.

In Kenya, since the first Covid-19 case was reported in March 2020,over 600 journalists have been retrenched, many have endured pay cuts while others endure long delays in salary payment.

A September 2020 report published by Article 19, a human rights organisation that promotes freedom of expression, indicated that at least 48 journalists had been attacked or restrained from doing their work during the pandemic.

Degree of freedom

The various reports and rankings measure the degree of freedom available to traditional journalists working in established media outlets.

They show that mainstream media houses have been hardest hit by these challenges.

The attack on David Omurunga, a journalist at Milele FM who was accosted by police officers along Mburu Gichua Road in Nakuru Town as he left office depicts how the security personnel in Kenya have curtailed press freedom.

Early last month, the Media Council of Kenya Chief Executive Officer David Omwoyo condemned harassment of journalists by police enforcing lockdown in Nakuru county.

Despite journalists being listed as essential service providers, police continue to harass and assault journalists.

This happens as Kenyans commemorate the World Press Freedom Day today with events sponsored by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) in partnership with Communications Authority of Kenya, Retirement Benefits Authority, Open Society of Kenya and other partners commemorate.

In the event, the UK’s Minister for Africa, James Duddridge MP, will give a keynote speech at a regional event hosted by the Kenya Editors’ Guild.

The British High Commission will also participate in the MCK’s event, while the High Commissioner will host a group of MPs to discuss media freedom.

The minister is set to outline some of the UK’s support for media freedom in Kenya and across East Africa – in 2019, the UK spent Sh17.2 billion of aid on supporting the media and the free flow of information across the world.

“I want to pay tribute to your tireless work as journalists in challenging times made even harder by the economic disruption of Covid-19.

Many have been reporting from the front lines of this health crisis, and too many have faced censorship, intimidation or violence.

“We politicians may not always like what the media has to say, but it is a vital part of a free and open society.

We salute you for what you do, and are here to support your work.”Jane Marriott, the British High Commissioner to Kenya, said.

Cherishing information

The UK has also been supporting female journalists in Kenya through a series of events hosted by the British High Commissioner. 

A new programme has recently begun operating in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu counties, with a particular focus on supporting data journalism and female journalists. 

One recent example of its work is compiling the important report launched today on media freedoms in Kenya, building awareness on legal frameworks and rights, and supporting accuracy and fact-checking in the digital space.

The theme for this year’s celebrations Information as a Public Good which is a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information and 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.

This year’s 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 UN to proclaim World PressFreedomDayin1993. The event will be presided over by National Assembly Speaker Justine Muturi. 

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