What you need to know:
- The prevailing hard economic times and dwindling revenues from advertisement call for new way of doing things.
- Content must become the king, and it can only do so if it resonates with the audience.
It is that time of the year when we are marking the World Press Freedom Day and taking stock of the gains, opportunities and challenges in the media industry as well as trends that are prevalent in affecting free and independent media as the fourth estate.
Media remains a strong player in shaping national development processes in Kenya as in the rest of the world while at the same time holding the position of the most trusted institution. Press freedom is a fundamental human right.
With a history that almost prior to 1992 deteriorated into a dictatorship, 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 in the Constitution as well as the cautionary statements following the post-election violence in 2008 — media practitioners and journalists have shown professionalism and maturity in news dissemination, demanding accountability and civic education for Kenyans.
Indeed, current data indicate that many Kenyans are demanding more information from the government on several public interest issues, and among the leading source of credible information is the media.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic and reports from global press freedom watchdogs showing that press freedom in Kenya is currently under threat and declining, media has stood on the side of the truth and continues to influence public agenda in several ways.
Several journalists have stood above the three arms of government and through incisive, professional and bold journalism demanded accountability from the duty bearers. They have also exposed grand corruption and gross human rights violations without fear or favour.
Journalists and media practitioners have braced legal hurdles, physical threats, intimidation from judicial officers, advertisers, media owners and fellow journalists to bring us news that we identify with.
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, disunity among professional associations working on media related issues, which has made the sector more vulnerable to attacks, eroded journalists’ bargaining power thus leading to poor remunerations and dearth of professional ethics and credibility.
The prevailing hard economic times and dwindling revenues from advertisement call for new way of doing things. Content must become the king, and it can only do so if it resonates with the audience.
Corruption in the media
More than ever before, media must invest in research and quality journalism and content. In addition, a number of laws including Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Act, Books and Newspapers Act, Public Security Act, Official Secrets Act, Films and Stage Plays Act, The Defamation Act, The Preservation of Public Security Act, The Public Order Act and Chief's Authority Act seem to constraint the civic space and need to be reviewed.
Conversely, new laws such as the PBO and Access to information Act should be operationalised. Journalists must also familiarise themselves with Article10 of the Constitution that requires upholding of the national values and principles of governance which include national unity and public participation.
The issue of corruption in media must be addressed and tackled immediately. Corruption has led to loss of credibility among journalists. 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 as well as localise content.
Media houses should also invest more in research and investigative journalists. Kenyans should also appreciate the environment in which media is operating and offer support through sharing information, documents, and constructive criticisms.
Above all, media sector players must ask themselves how self-regulation should work in Kenya. Is the current co-regulation of the media effective? While passing the Media Council Act 2013, stakeholders called it a moderate law that requires improvement. 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?
Mr Bwire is the Head of Media Development and Strategy at the Media Council of Kenya