It’s World Press Freedom Day!
In the words of Malcom X, that giant of a man who stands so tall in the history of Black America, success is not measured by the heights we have achieved but rather by the depths from which we came.
Indeed, Kenya has made significant progress to become the home to one the most vibrant media landscapes in Africa.
If you care to examine the state of media freedom from independence to the 1990s, you’ll recognize that we have made incredible progress.
Our constitution, which adequately guarantees both media and press freedom has been praised as the most progressive in Africa.
The previous constitution subsumed media freedom under freedom of expression.
If you care to examine the state of media freedom from independence to the 1990s, you’ll recognize that we have made incredible progress.Patrick Okoyo
Today, there are few cases of state and its agents of coercion openly harassing, detaining or forcibly closing down media houses.
One of the recent cases occurred in May last year when police injured a Deutsche Welle journalist who was then covering a protest against police brutality amid COVID-19 measures.
That the media is increasingly becoming bold is not in doubt.
Journalists are actively working to expose corruption in government in addition to other ills that beset society.
At the same time, journalists have been on the receiving end for weaponizing their journalistic duties to silence excellent stories on public interest for one constant variable: profit.
This is unethical and erodes the spirit of true watchdogism.
Others have argued that whereas the media is expected to set agenda for debating matters national development, a section of the media has presented wanting content raising issues of credibility.
Commodification of news in the era of hyper commercialism erodes the public service role that the media ought to play in society.
To this end, the media must be reminded of its social responsibility role while demands of it to have internal safeguards for self- regulation.
There is also the issue of constant hobnobbing of media owners and managers with political heavyweights which creates an atmosphere of mistrust and lack of editorial independence.
One can thus easily predict the philosophy of a media house in the face of such open dalliances yet editorial independence and journalistic freedom are essential ingredients of a vibrant and free media.
As we celebrate advances in the Kenyan media landscape, we cannot escape the debate on plurality and diversity.
A multiplicity of channels, as seen in the rising numbers of radio, TV and print media outlets, has not significantly guaranteed diversity of content.
This is partly because of media conglomeration.
However, existence of community radio stations has to some extent led to coverage of stories often left out by the mainstream media.
These community media also seem to be grappling with financial challenges forcing them to hunt for profit at the expense of their cardinal role.
The digitized public sphere has also recorded strides of progress.
Their only undoing is their tabloidization approach in which they sex up stories and focus more on sensational content.
These community media also seem to be grappling with financial challenges forcing them to hunt for profit at the expense of their cardinal role.Patrick Okoyo
Most netizens therefore regard them as sites for entertainment. Luckily, the trend is slowly changing as more serious digitally networked public sphere sites for stories are coming up.
Take for example the Lake Region Bulletin, a multimedia platform for news across Lake Region counties, which is a platform through which online news consumers get verified stories packaged with high standards of journalistic acumen.
World Press Freedom Day
This, in my view, suggest a positive trajectory towards the paths of journalistic sagacity. We can only call for more vibrant e-platforms that promote responsible journalism.
World Press Freedom Day reminds us, especially the government, on the need to respect its commitment to press freedom.
At the same time, it’s a reminder to media practitioners to uphold the highest standards of journalism.
Kenya is obliged to uphold these rights at the regional level under the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights, and globally under Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.
The writer is a communications specialist