Tuesday was “World Press Freedom Day” and the media council of Kenya held its monthly debate tonight at the Stanley Hotel with the topic of “Is the media in Kenya abusing its freedom?”
Lucy Kibaki: First Lady
Enough has been written about Lucy Kibaki’s remarks on the media (Lies! Lies! Damn Lies!). She was not at the function, but she was the talk of Nairobi all day. Our new boss walked into the office for the first time today, and no one noticed as they were all glued to the TV set at 8 a.m. watching the horror show that had unfolded at Nation Centre earlier in the morning.
Kwamchetsi Makokha: Associate Editor, the Standard said that
- Kenya is ranked no. 126 in the world in media freedom terms. In fact our status has dropped from “partly free” to “not free”
- Last week, Water Minister Martha Karua was awarded 20 million shillings ($250,000) by the High Court following a lawsuit field against the Independent (a tabloid newspaper that sells 5,000 copies weekly).
- Media freedom is not protected in the constitution and no legislation has been introduced to do this – in fact the government is planning to introduce fresh legislation to control the media
- Government has low tolerance for media freedom, and prefers to manipulate info given to the public
- 50% of advertising in papers comes from the government - forcing the media to cooperate or close shop. Earlier this year, the government made a landmark decision to temporarily stop advertising with the Standard
- All the media is owned by wealthy Kenyans who control significant sectors of the economy. Sometimes things get suppressed due to ownership interests.
Dr. Alfred Mutua (Public Commmunication Secretary)
- Gave a very good speech on the issue.
- He began by describing his experiences as a journalist in media-friendly (US and Australia) and media-hostile (Zambia, Congo) countries
- During the dark KANU days, media adopted an activist role that was necessary in order to open up the democratic space. They still have that attitude today and media problems in Kenya today stem from that pose.
- A lot of media stories are not accurate or mere allegations – based on speculation or malice. He gave examples on stories about him that he says were complete fabrications – such as the story in April that he arrested a motorist after a road accident, by putting him in the boot of his car. Other stories are slanted in a way that cause Kenyans to look at government actions with cynicism
- He said that there are enough truly juicy stories that the media don’t have to print lies. Still, they exaggerate stories even slightly (there was absolutely nothing wrong with Kibaki’s plane – officials had just forgotten a briefcase)
- Fact checking is very poor at media houses, and even editors have acknowledged this but they have difficulty combating this
- By inviting contributions from the audience, he was able to demonstrate that media crews routinely ask for bribes before they attend/cover corporate events. This is also well known.
- He described hearing the f-word on a morning radio show. Unfortunately his solution was to call for more local media content to replace decadent content.
It was a nice evening; unfortunately I had to leave early in the Q&A segment and could not cover that – though am sure Lucy was still the main topic.