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Despite many challenges in its way, media has stood on the side of truth

By Victor Bwire | May 5th 2021
Victor Bwire.

After the World Press Freedom Day on Monday, we are taking stock of the gains, opportunities and challenges in the media industry, and trends that are affecting free and independent media.

Media are a strong player in shaping national development processes while at the same time being the most trusted institution. Press freedom is a fundamental human right that largely actualises freedom of expression and access to information provisions in our Constitution.

It is also critical in enhancing public participation in governance issues and enabling citizen involvement in the democratisation process.

The opening up of the civic space, including liberation of the airwaves, followed by the inclusion of media freedom and access to information via articles 33 and 35 of the Constitution, and the cautionary statements following the post-election violence in 2008, media practitioners and journalists have shown professionalism and maturity in news dissemination, demands for accountability and civic education.

Indeed, current data indicate many Kenyans are demanding for more information from the government on public interest issues, and among the leading sources of credible information is the media.

Journalists and media practitioners — freelancers,  employees of community media outfits, independent online content producers or staff of national media houses — have braced for legal hurdles, physical threats, intimidation from judicial officers, advertisers, media owners and fellow journalists to bring us news that we identify with. We salute such media professionals.

Challenges that seem to stand out in the face of free and independent media include editorial influencing by corporates/owners and advertisers, censorship, threats to jobs, physical threats to media practitioners, corruption, and poor working conditions. 

There is also the failure to appreciate the changing consumer tastes and preferences by the media. The hard economic times and dwindling revenues from advertisement call for new ways of doing things. Content must become the king and resonate with the audience. More than ever before, media must invest in research and quality journalism.

Journalists must familiarise themselves with Article 10 of the Constitution that requires upholding of the national values and principles of governance.  The issue of corruption in media must be addressed. Corruption has led to loss of credibility amongst journalists, and trust from people.

Journalists must continue to engage with duty bearers, seek information using the access to information law, do joint ventures and focus more on constructive journalism through problem-solving stories, localise our content and invest more in research and investigative journalism.

Kenyans should appreciate the environment in which media is operating and offer support through sharing information, documents, and constructive criticisms. We must allow journalists exercise their professional discretion, while those charged with advising government on policy matters, work on a media policy for the country.

Above all, the media sector players determine how self-regulation of the media should work. Is the current co-regulation of the media effective? Is the sector working jointly to bring about the desired changes? How should the issue of improving the working conditions and welfare of journalists be handled — for it is a really big issue.

The culture of treating everything in government as secret must come to an end for citizens to realise the benefits of the access to information law.

Mr Bwire is Director, Media Training and Development at the Media Council of Kenya  

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