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Media freedom is a right, not State-given privilege



 Journalists protested in Nairobi demanding their press freedom after following harassment and attacks. [Boniface Kendo, Standard]

World Press Freedom Day is being celebrated today. On this day, the media fraternity reminds the government of the need to respect media freedom.

In Kenya, this freedom is under threat. A 2023 ‘Reporters Without Boundaries’ report ranks Kenya poorly in terms of media freedom, having dropped from position 69 globally in 2022 to 116 in 2023. 

Arrests, violence, censorship and threats of different forms on journalists continue to raise the red flag on the state of freedom of expression and access to information.

Journalists, as the vanguards of truth and the watchdogs of society, require all-out support to serve the public interest. 

In the tapestry of democracy, press freedom stands as a cornerstone that not only holds power to account but also fosters an informed citizenry.

As nations mark World Press Freedom Day today, we call on decision-makers and citizens alike to reaffirm their commitment to upholding the right to information while ensuring that journalists work without fear of reprisal.

The Media Council of Kenya has documented more than 100 attacks on media crews in recent days, including the ugly case where journalists covering a Nacada crackdown were assaulted. This trend must be reversed, and today’s Press Freedom Day is a wake-up moment.

This year’s theme, "A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the Environmental Crisis," resonates deeply with the urgent environmental challenges facing our world. In Kenya, where environmental issues like floods and droughts wreak havoc on communities, the media has an obligation to galvanise action and raise awareness.

Kenya's commitment to international instruments on freedom of expression and media freedom must translate into concrete actions. We urge President William Ruto, the Legislature and the Judiciary to create an enabling environment for the media industry to thrive.

This entails enacting and enforcing laws that safeguard press freedom and access to information, while also addressing concerns such as lopsided State advertising decrees that threaten media independence. In an era where action seen to stifle dissent are increasingly condemned on the global stage, there should be room for consultant consultation among stakeholders. The voices of journalists must not be silenced, and the pursuit of truth must remain unyielding.

The media must be allowed to operate in a free environment, guided by the values of fair reporting and regulated by established statutory bodies. The professional conduct of the media is governed by the code of conduct for the practice of journalism. In any case, there exists a Media Complaints Commission where grievances against the media are ably handled. 

The government should be guided by Article 34 of the Constitution that directs the State not to interfere with any person engaged in the production of or circulation of any publication of information by any medium. Media freedom is a right, not a State-given privilege. 

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