Kenya is one of the most vibrant media landscapes where the journalists work tirelessly to expose corruption and other wrong doings. However, media freedom is not fully practiced as you find that journalists are harassed, threatened and in some cases murdered as they practice their watchdog role. This is why Transparency International Kenya (Action for Transparency project) collaborated with UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, Media Council of Kenya and other organisations to organise an online Webinar Conference on 4th May 2020 to celebrate the 27th Annual World Press Freedom Day celebrations (WPFD) in Kenya. This years’ theme was, Journalism Without Fear or Favor. The Hashtag adopted was #WorldPressFreedomDayKE
Discussions were done through a panelist where Sheila Masinde, Executive Director at TI-Kenya was present among other delegates such as Churchill Otieno, President at Kenya Editor’s Guild,Eric Oduor Secretary General – Kenya Union of Journalists,Ann Therese Ndong – Jatta – Director and Representative of the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa,David Omwoyo – Chief Executive Officer, Media Council of Kenya and Marceline Nyambala – Executive Director, Association of Media Women in Kenya.
Some of the key points were that journalists covering enforcement of COVID-19 curfew measures are facing physical harm from security agencies and those investigating crime, corruption and human rights abuses, being silenced through illegal detention, vandalism of equipment and lawsuits that are taking advantage of various statutes undermining freedom of expression. It was noted that there are laws that have been put in place to ensure that journalists are editorial independent and publish the story as is in all multi-media avenue, therefore reporters should be able to tell their stories and report any threats.
However there have been so many cases of misinformation during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, the media should always be aware that the public is fully dependent on what the media tells them hence, information shared should always be verified i.e. fact checking is very critical as misinformation can lead to tragic incidences.
Some of the front line workers mentioned that cases of harassment are increasing and many journalists are afraid of publishing corruption related cases due to fear as many undergo threats, while some have been killed in the line of duty.
As the online webinar concluded, Sheila Masinde mentioned that the journalists to come forth if one is facing any harassment or threats and TI-Kenya is in the process of pushing for a whistle-blower protection bill. She added that TI-Kenya is currently preparing a petition on access to information on COVID-19 aid and emphasized that there should be mandatory provisions of transparency and accountability measures to be adhered to by the different public entities managing public resources in this period. This should include following procurement procedures as dictated by the law and making this information publicly available to enhance oversight at National and County level.