What you need to know:
- We have also demonstrated to the Judiciary how pre-emptive gag orders and predatory court awards suffocate free media.
- Measures are needed to ensure money owed to the media by public-sector entities are paid. And media houses can do with tax breaks.
Journalism, like all labours of love, is not for the faint-hearted.
Journalists stand in the face of much pressure, from bosses, politicians, rotten colleagues, spin masters, influence peddlers and new knowledge that grows in ever stronger bursts.
They are humble in greatness, humming softly in their notebooks and into both sides of cameras. Others artfully but silently polish and sharpen on the subs and production desks in print, broadcast and online, and some strategise, innovate, lead, train and mentor.
Today is a day to ponder these heroes for they have stood strong to hold power to account during the most trying periods in journalism ever.
As the world marks Press Freedom Day, under a very apt theme of ‘journalism without fear or favour’, the Kenya Editors Guild has a message for the citizens, their leaders and journalists.
First, some context. Critical journalism is a public service that has until now been enabled through the media business.
The structure of this business has been such that the advertiser pays for citizens to get trusted reporting and analyses.
Advertising revenue has migrated with a sizeable chunk getting exported, hence it can no longer support strong journalism.
A sobering statistic is that profitability of Kenya’s mainstream media has shrunk by an estimated 75 per cent in five years!
In practical terms, therefore, there are fewer experienced journalists available to do the public duty, hence the watchdog is getting smaller in size at a time when graft and disinformation is all the rage, hence more sophisticated vigilance is needed.
Kenya’s democracy is in jeopardy unless urgent policy and legislative measures are taken. No democracy survives without accountability journalism.
The question is, how can Kenya protect its journalism so that it can serve the citizens without fear or favour?
The Covid-19 pandemic has put public journalism into serious focus by testing its ability to live up to its tri-faceted democratic mandate: providing timely, credible and important information; offering a robust forum for the public/citizens to debate key questions, and holding power to account.
The ravages of the pandemic on the media have exposed and escalated sustainability challenges in the industry that need urgent policy attention and intervention.
The Kenya Editors Guild has engaged the Executive and the Legislature on many of these questions. We have submitted policy proposals outlining short-term and long-term measures to protect the industry.
We have also discussed with MPs legislative reforms to protect accountability journalism.
We have also demonstrated to the Judiciary how pre-emptive gag orders and predatory court awards suffocate free media.
Journalists must innovate. But the State must also put in place measures to ensure Google, Facebook and other international tech platforms that ride on locally produced content that serve the public interest are contributing to its cost.
Similarly, measures are needed to ensure money owed to the media by public-sector entities are paid. And media houses can do with tax breaks.
Today we bring our case to citizens, for whom we are messengers. Protecting journalism is not a matter only for journalists.
The public needs journalism that it can trust, and therefore it is the most critical stakeholder in fixing this problem.
Journalists, to help this, have a duty to report on media issues too. Changes and realities need to be discussed openly.
Solutions must of necessity be checked against the principles of journalism without fear or favour.
Mr Otieno is the president of the Kenya Editors Guild and managing editor for online and new content at NMG; [email protected]; @OtienoC