Kenya’s media in the spotlight

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Nairobi, May 2016 — “Media in the Spotlight: Can it be free, independent and professional, to spur inclusive development, democracy, transparent and accountable leadership in the digitalized media environment?” was the theme of day’s discussions in Kenya. Topics such as self-censorship, the media and technology, journalists’ safety, and economic and political pressure in the digital environment, took centre stage.

Guest speaker, PLO Lumumba, who heads Kenya’s School of Law, was quick to congratulate African journalists on their ability to work under unfavorable conditions when compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world. Nonetheless he challenged African journalists to ensure that democracy was achieved.

On journalists’ safety, Mr. Victor Bwire, Deputy Chief Executive of the Media Council of Kenya, spoke of terrorism as a global challenge and the risks journalists exposed themselves to when reporting from the front line.

He emphasized the need for media houses to fulfill their promise and meet the terms of the safety protocol that they each signed on the 18th of August, 2014.

On the same note, Kenya Union of Journalists Chair, Eric Oduor, stated that according to a research report released last year, Kenya was ranked among the deadliest countries for journalist to operate in.

Mr. Oduor outlined the following measures which he urged journalists to undertake before going out to cover a story:

  1. Basic survival skills training in First Aid and safety.
  2. Security assessment of area of assignment to ensure adequate preparedness for any eventuality.
  • Post-coverage counseling for emotional well-being in case of traumatic experiences.

Kenya’s ICT Permanent Secretary, Sammy Itemere, spoke on behalf of the ministry, and affirmed the government’s commitment to engage media so as to promote accountability and democracy.

The event ended on a high note with the Annual Journalism Excellence Awards (AJEA) gala that was held that very evening to recognize exemplary journalism work by those in the field.

Dr. Nancy Booker-PhD, Lecturer Multi-Media University, spoke about the many players in the media space and the dilemma journalists face when they you post content online, which can easily assume a life of its own and degenerate into hate speech.

She challenged journalists to consider the implications of their online posts. “Can you be a journalist and work in a media house but when you go online on your face book page, or your tweeter handle, that you can actually post things that are outside of what the profession would actually approve of?” she posed. “The challenge is that journalists need to understand that as a journalist, you cannot have that duality.”

She reminded journalists that their online posts “actually reflect the organization that you represent and part of the challenge is that as a journalist, you automatically become a news maker and there is a very thin line between your personal views and the views that your organization represents”.

Nancy’s colleague, Wilson Ugangu, decried the little attention given to the socio-cultural and democratic benefits of the digital age and called for more engagement that would recognize other elements that have to do with how people interact.