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SPEECH BY LINUS KAIKAI, CHAIRMAN OF THE KENYA EDITORS GUILD ON THE COMMEMORATION OF THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY ON MONDAY MAY 4, 2015 NAIROBI

On the 9th of April this year, a day that happened to mark the second anniversary of the Jubilee administration, we at the Kenya Editors Guild had a breakfast meeting with the Cabinet Secretary in charge of information Dr. Fred Matiangi. With considerable detail, we expressed our concern on a number of issues around the state of the media industry in Kenya today. And as we commemorate the World Press Freedom Day today, I will be revisiting some of those concerns.

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It is a sad twist of irony that we are this morning commemorating the World Press Freedom Day and at the same time, mourning the yet to be explained death of Eldoret-based journalist John Kituyi.  The theme of this year’s Press freedom Day is ‘Let Journalism Thrive’, hardly a phrase we could utter
with straight faces as Kenyans this morning. How can we, when a journalist walking back to his family early in the evening can be attacked and killed under unclear circumstances?  How can journalism thrive when journalists are savagely beaten by General Service Unit police officers in uniform simply
for turning up to cover a story?  Ridiculous accounts have been given by the police and the Interior Ministry on the events around the GSU’s brutal attack on Nehemiah Okwemba of Nation Media Group and Reuben Ogacha of the Royal Media Services; two journalists that were lawfully on assignment in
the Kulalu Galana ranch where villagers claim their livestock had been illegally impounded.

Such primitive beatings can neither be defended nor explained away. On this occasion, we repeat our appeal to government; take action against the officers involved without further delay.

On the World Press Freedom Day we say; Let Journalism Thrive, but the reality in our country points at a very grim state of affairs for the industry. We remain gravely concerned about the intensified efforts by the government to introduce laws that essentially undermine the role of journalism and the place of a free press. In last two years, we have seen the legislative process being reduced to an avenue of allowing government to seize control of media functions in favour of narrow, short-term interests. From the Kenya Information and Communications Bill 2013 to the controversially passed Kenya Security Laws Amendment Bill 2014, it has been a season of retrogression as hastily passed laws fly not just against reason but also against the letter of constitution of Kenya 2010. It was therefore no surprise that at least 8 clauses of the security laws were declared unconstitutional.

We do not know what to expect next after the Security Bill. The forces lined up against a free and independent media remain determined and persistent in their pursuit of their negative agenda.

The recent developments are only a reminder that the tough long journey that our media industry has walked over the decades is far from over. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to many journalists that preceded us. Without their toil and sacrifice, the media space would not be anything close to what it is today.  We owe it to them to protect every inch of our gains, knowing as we always must that the real benefits of a free and independent press is not ourselves but the good of our country.

Reference to the bravery of our predecessors should now pave way to a thorough assessment of our present so that we can try to project our future

Internally as a sector, we face many serious challenges today. Many times, questions have been raised about the quality and authenticity of our journalism. Objectivity of our reporters and media outlets has occasionally been questioned too. Entire media houses have been associated with political parties, leaders or persuasions. And worse, ethnic affiliation.

Our newsrooms and newsgathering processes have at times been categorized as cartel-like dens of corruption where coverage comes at a price.  Our newsrooms are also believed to be teeming with political activists and consultants posing as journalists and ostensibly twisting that story in favor or against depending on the interests to be served.  Such 'journalists’ are referred to as ‘Mtu Yangu’ (my person) by politicians or 'Mtu Yetu’ (Our person) by larger groupings such as political parties. Let us face it, these things, perceived or real, give the media a very bad name. The media and specifically journalists cannot be part of the Kenya’s sickening Mtu Yetu culture. For those who can’t resist the urge of partisanship, step out of the industry and join the camp of your preference. That would be a great contribution to the protection of the integrity of our media. I also urge politicians from both government and the opposition to take the bold step of  withdrawing their men from our newsrooms and taking them into their direct employ. This too will be your contribution to the integrity of the media in Kenya.

Let us boldly look inward and clean our house. Integrity like charity, begins at home.

On this note, I commend the swift action taken recently by the Royal Media Service over a case of inappropriate conduct by a section of its journalists. I also welcome the Nation Media Group’s campaign against what has famously become known as brown envelope journalism. This is the direction we must take as an industry. We must now separate the wheat from the chaff in our newsrooms so that our journalism is left only to genuine journalists at heart.

As part of this concerted clean-up, we must focus on the accreditation processes. The industry is currently grappling with a large number of quacks and impersonators masquerading as journalists. They attend events and pretend to cover them in the name of media houses, and sometimes in the name of known journalists. This lot must be smoked out, exposed, shamed and even prosecuted for their criminal activities. Newsmakers would be of great assistance to us in this regard by ensuring they have ascertained the identity of the reporters they are dealing with.

I will urge the Media Council to also tighten the process of issuing Press Cards by introducing a strong element of background checks before issuing such cards.

As we clean house, let us keep our sights on the greater space where other consequential threats lie in wait. The wellness of independent and free media depends entirely on the ability of the industry to regulate itself. We must aggressively pursue this path of self-regulation backed by respective editorial policies and guidelines. The absence of a strong self-regulating mechanism will in itself constitute a major pitfall for our industry.

At this point I challenge the Media Council of Kenya to robustly claim its place as part of the industry’s self regulating environment. The independence and stability is key to the functions of the MCK. The murmurs about blue number plates and related backing should cease. Allow me not to elaborate beyond here.

Let me now conclude by talking about one of the most contentious topics I have had to grapple with as chair of the Kenya Editors’ Guild. That is the rocky relationship between the media and the Jubilee administration.

About three months after coming to office, President Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy President William Ruto hosted media editors for breakfast at State House. We viewed it then as we do now as an interaction between leaders of the new government and the media.  But in the eyes of sections of the public, the media went to sell out. Journalists went to deliver their price tags and others to look for jobs.  In short, we suffered terribly on the image front as journalists.

But our critics missed the irony of the aftermath of that breakfast. Shortly after that, we all heard the President and the Deputy President advising their audiences on their preferred way of utilizing newspapers – kufunga nyama, wrapping meat.   I would however strongly advise any ruler and leader
that such disdain for newspapers is not just self-defeating but also potentially catastrophic. Newspapers are the closest humans have ever gotten to putting together a comprehensive and objective occurrence book which is what could have inspired one of America’s greatest Presidents Franklin Roosevelt statement that one should not imagine running a country without newspapers.  Let me put it lightly, and I say lightly because I still don’t know what really transpired… I never thought the president and deputy president were serious about using newspapers to wrap meet until the other
night the presidential jet headed to the hostile skies of Yemen, a country whose war has been covered for months by our newspapers!

Hostility and aggression would accurately describe the true state of the relationship between media and the Jubilee administration today. And while this prevails, let me just state that the allegiance of a free and independent media is the service of Public Interest. That is our fidelity in good and bad times.

I would urge the Jubilee administration to appreciate the institutional importance of a free and independent media. It benefits not individuals or parties but the country.

Thank you all

Friends of Kenya Editors Guild