Media defines democracy

Journalists covering a past event

The role of the ‘Fourth Estate’ in disseminating information is one of the reasons people are informed.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Nelson Mandela said critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of a democracy. Equally complimenting the importance of media, Oscar Wilde said: “In the old days men had the rack. Now they have the press”

The role of the ‘Fourth Estate’ in disseminating information is one of the reasons people are informed. It is the surest conveyor belt that even a dictatorial government will use to reach the populace.

Through investigative journalism, media exposes rot in the governments. Of course, many journalists have been individually targeted and harmed. Some forced to exile. But the resilience hasn’t tinkered.

The intimidation, threats and attacks meted out on journalists recent by the political elite, police and the public was an invitation to anarchy. The moment the doors of free media are closed, those of despotism, anarchy and violation of human rights open wide—to the detriment of the people.

Power abuses

When free media is gagged, wrongdoing would go unnoticed; power abuses in the corridors of power and government will never see the light of day. And when individual journalists become targets of attack and stereotype, the flow of information stops.

This is all that characterises tyranny. And when information is curtailed, misinformation, which, like power, abhors a vacuum, sets in. That is an affront to the spirit and letter of the Constitution. We’ve seen in the recent days journalists jailed for performing their duties. Sadly, the people whose interest journalists work and risk lives for are their attackers.

If one didn’t comprehend the importance of a free media in the recent mass demonstrations coverage despite attempts to muzzle it, then the rising and setting of the sun means nothing to such a person.

That notwithstanding, the sanctity of responsible and professional journalism should never be sacrificed at the altar of political or financial gain. Irresponsible journalism has in the past caused and escalated clashes and wars in Rwanda and Burundi.

Mr Munoko is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya. [email protected].