What you need to know:
- Containment measures to curb coronavirus infections have constrained journalistic practice.
- Governments have used the restrictions as camouflage for stifling press freedoms.
The world marks the international Press Freedom Day, a day set aside to reflect on fundamental rights on access to information. The day provides a chance to reflect and evaluate the state of press freedom, independence of the media and practice of journalism.
For two consecutive years, the day is celebrated against the backdrop of a global health pandemic; coronavirus that caused massive disruptions that have affected all aspects of our lives.
The media industry, like other sectors, has been hard hit. Containment measures to curb coronavirus infections have constrained journalistic practice such as onsite coverage and interviews.
Governments have used the restrictions as camouflage for stifling press freedoms. As frontline workers, journalists are exposed to infection. Economic depression occasioned by the pandemic has impacted badly on media business; readership and viewership have slumped drastically, advertising revenues have dropped and the consequence is closure of media companies and mass lay-off of journalists.
Even before the pandemic, the media were struggling for survival. Digital transformations have phenomenally changed production, distribution and consumption patterns. Media landscape have changed profoundly, with so many players entering the market creating cut-throat competition. Emergence of citizen journalism, content aggregation, data analytics and ability to distribute content online means that legacy media no longer hold sway over content.
Traditional forms of media control such as ownership, policies and regulations, advertising and direct government interference still obtain.
In Kenya, the creation of the Government Advertising Agency (GAA) has turned out to be one of the worst forms of economic controls of the media. Add structural inefficiencies, inadequate training, poor working environment, frequent turnover of journalists and the situation becomes grim.
All these underscore the fact the media is constrained. Journalists cannot effectively exercise their freedoms and operate independently. The loser is the citizen, who is denied unalloyed content. Hence, the celebrations today should provide impetus for intensifying campaigns to liberate the media from all shackles of oppression.