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According to a report released last week by the International Peace Institute, the state of press freedom globally has gone down

Last week I should have returned to Kenya from the Netherlands, having attended a four-day global conference, a precursor to the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) 2020 marked yesterday.

However, I never travelled to The Hague, the Dutch city of international justice that is one of my dream basket list destinations, thanks to the irritating novel coronavirus. Yesterday, I spent the morning at my dining table, taking part in a virtual meeting for East African Editors marking the WPFD 2020, while today morning I will attend another webinar from the same table organised by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) to mark the same event.

Despite the disruptions caused to travel and big hall meetings that we are used to, it is impressive to note that media stakeholders – speaking on the case of Kenya – have made great efforts to keep the industry alive and focused on goals that preceded the virus interruption.

It is imperative to note that the two virtual meetings kept alive the theme, ‘Journalism Without Fear or Favour’, of the WPFD 2020 that was also the banner of The Hague meeting that never was. The virtual engagements may not have taken place in the lavish ballroom of a Nairobi five-star, but the MCK supported by UNESCO Regional Office for East Africa and Transparency International Kenya, will converge Kenyan media on virtual space to discuss the most pertinent issues affecting the industry and journalists amid the crisis.

Severe effects

It has been loss above loss for all global economies and businesses and the media is not exempt. It was only fitting that the stakeholders, as happened elsewhere in the world, discuss burning issues that urgently need to be dealt with to cushion media from the severe effects of Covid-19.

A high priority for the MCK webinar today will be to draw stakeholders around the discussion of safety and protection of journalists in the wake of the pandemic, and to propose solutions to the challenges as well as come up with action plan proposals.

The forum will also be an opportune moment to share data on how the pandemic has affected journalists who are recognised as frontline workers and to outline what mitigation factors can be drawn while the crisis rages.

Some of the proactive measures the MCK had already rolled out to cushion the media from harsh effects will be worthy of note, and could be enhanced depending on views voiced by stakeholders.

The MCK had already urgently made available a special Covid-19 press badge for both journalists and non-media personnel working in media houses to enable ease of movement during the ongoing night curfew and blockade of Nairobi and some coastal counties.

Tough measures

The MCK is also in the middle of managing a donor-funded programme issuing travel grants to enable journalists do Covid-19-related stories. The project, supported by OSIEA, will enable journalists, especially from the most vulnerable regions, deliver stories using the grants that media houses may be constrained to offer at this time.

The council is also rolling out a programme to financially assist community radio stations that have ground to a halt due to the effects of stringent coronavirus measures. The programme, supported by government, will enable the stations sustain jobs while playing one of their key roles to reach rural areas with government messaging related to the pandemic.

Still, being a day that is set out to highlight media freedom and independence, it is a fitting occasion to remind the government and media owners that the delicate economic environment forced down by the pandemic should be navigated carefully to ensure rights of journalists are not erased by the tough measures.

According to a report released last week by the International Peace Institute, the state of press freedom globally has gone down, as some governments are including sweeping media control measures alongside Covid-19 regulations. The report cited Africa as among regions where increased arrests, censorship and physical attacks have escalated during the Covid-19 crisis.

Kenya is not listed in the extreme brackets but this is not to say all is flowing smooth. All mainstream media houses have resorted to salary cuts for staff, which has become a global trend due to the economic crunch. However, the least that could be asked of media houses, on this auspicious occasion, is to guarantee jobs remain intact even as the world waits for the coronavirus devastation to end.

I draw confidence from the WPFD 2020 theme, ‘Journalism Without Fear or Favour’ to say, we will return to better times.

Mr Maina is the Chairman, Media Council of Kenya

World Press Freedom Day Covid-19 effects