Acknowledge media's role in fighting violent extremism, journalists tell state

Journalists follow proceedings during the NUSOJ-Australian Government Media conference on World Press Freedom Day at the Stanley Hotel. [Courtesy]

A group of journalists drawn from the East African region have called on the government to defend the media from attacks on their independence.

Meeting in Nairobi, the journalists from Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan said there is an urgent need for the government to further acknowledge the role played by the media in countering negative narratives of violence and terrorism.

The group said journalists and media houses play a vital role in informing the public on the operationalisation, implementation, and monitoring of national, regional, and international strategies for preventing these violent extremisms.

The unions are hosted in Nairobi by the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) in partnership with the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ)

NUSOJ secretary general Omar Faruk Osman said the union advocates for preventing and countering violent extremism strategies, especially those developed by the governments, to prioritise the role of the media as they are uniquely placed to ensure that communication priorities are firmly rooted in media practice.

He said it was thus essential for journalists from across the Eastern African region to gather in Nairobi for the inaugural conference in celebration of the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day.

The two-day conference that started on May 2, 2023 focused on preventing violent extremism and terrorism.

The participants also discussed and reflected on the role of the media in countering negative narratives of violence and terrorism in the Eastern Africa region.

Australian High Commissioner to Kenya, Luke Williams said media holds a challenging role as informers of society amid increasing efforts by extremists to use their channels as a vehicle to spread their destructive narratives.

Williams said Australia is committed to collaborating with Eastern African countries to promote peace and stability in the region.

"World Press Freedom Day celebrates the principles of press freedom, evaluates press freedom around the world, defends the media from attacks on their independence and pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession," the envoy said.

He said Australia strongly supports freedom of expression, including media freedom and the safety of journalists, and actively advocates for these in bilateral and multilateral forums.

The Kenya Editor's Guild has called on the government against what it said is 'a deliberate move' to control what the public should know.

Through its president Zubeidah Kananu, the guild said it has noted concerns about increasing attempts by both state and non-state actors to impose restrictions on what information journalists can access.

Kananu spoke today during the World Press Freedom Day themed 'Shaping the Future of Rights - Freedom of Expression as a driver for all other human rights'.

Kananu said these attempts are largely affecting the connection between the rights of citizens to freely consume media content, and the rights of journalists to freely access information and make it available for public consumption.

"There are deliberate attempts to stop the media from pursuing certain stories. The latest instance in Kenya is the recent decision by the government to deny journalists access to the horror scene in Shakahola village in the Coast region, where more than 100 bodies have been exhumed in suspected cult deaths," she said.

Interior CS Kithure Kindiki said although freedom of the media is the cornerstone of credible democracy around the World, it is badly threatened by the serious rise of fake news, deliberate disinformation, and clear hate speech.

Kindiki said in modern society, one is more likely to land on made-up stories largely on social media and online platforms as opposed to truthful information as was before.

"This threat attacks the crust of press freedom by turning upside down the media currency thus leaving us with a thin line between facts and fiction, destroys science and promotes conspiracy and negative imagination. This represents a threat to our general security and therefore we take it very seriously," he said.

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