SPEECH BY PATIENCE NYANGE, THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT THE
ASSOCIATION OF MEDIA WOMEN IN KENYA, DURING THE WORLD
PRESS FREEDOM DAY CELEBRATIONS AT SAFARI PARK, NAIROBI ON
3 RD MAY, 2023.
All Protocols observed,
Colleagues gathered here, my seniors in the room, ladies and gentlemen, all gender diversities recognized. Good morning.
My name is Patience Nyange. I am the Executive Director at the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK)
Thank you for inviting us, AMWIK, to attend this very important convening.
AMWIK was established about 40 years ago as a non-profit membership organisation for women in the media. It was founded before the UN Women’s Conference held in Nairobi in 1985 when women’s voices received little or no attention in the media. Our mission is to see a society that enhances and promotes equitable development, human rights and women’s rights. We seek to use the media to promote an informed and gender-responsive society in Kenya and Africa.
Before I make my statement, allow me to congratulate the new leadership at the Kenya Editors Guild. Ni wakati wa uongozi wa mama. Congratulations to you my sister in the profession, Madam Zubeida Kananu on your election as the KEG President, the first female President since it’s inception. Well, at AMWIK, we celebrate you and your entire leadership and wish you a smooth ride ahead. We are here to support your journey, all the way. Call on us, we are happy to walk the journey with you. Congratulations.
It is with great pleasure that I stand before you today. World Press Freedom Day is a day of great significance when we celebrate the vital role that the press plays in our society and the importance of defending its freedom while observing the fundamental principles of free speech and free expression.
The World Press Freedom Day, 2023 is anchored under the theme; Shaping a future of Rights; Freedom of Expression as a driver of for all other human rights.
According to the World Press Freedom Index 2022, Kenya is ranked position 69 out of 180 countries, an improvement from position 120 in 2021. Despite the jump in places, the industry still experiences a challenging environment for journalists and media organizations.
Commemorating this day therefore acts as a reminder to the government of the need to respect its commitment to press freedom. Marking this day also enables reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is also a moment for us to echo the role we play in the advancement and respect for human rights as well as the promotion of a gender responsive society. It should not be lost to us that media freedom, safety of journalists and freedom of expression are increasingly under attack, which impacts the realization of other human rights.
We are gathered here not only to discuss and listen to each other but to also hear from expert practitioners about the place of freedom of expression within the overall human rights agenda. I also hope that we will discuss the particular role of journalists and the media in verifying and disseminating facts, creating spaces for ideas to be debated and for the voiceless to be heard, and rendering complex matters comprehensible for the public at large.
Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” States still have the power to decide what government information should be public or protected, but it is widely understood that freedom of expression and freedom of speech are entwined with a free media/press.
So, if access to media is a human right, what is the media’s responsibility to human rights? Free media is essential to human rights because, without information, people won’t know what’s going on locally, nationally, or internationally. The ability of our citizens to respond to laws, policies, and events – including human rights violations – is limited by ignorance. Free media has a responsibility to share information and helps explain that information to the public in a clear, accessible way. Media also has a duty to hold people in power accountable. We need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions. How can we work to protect – and not harm – human rights? There’s no simple solution. When it comes to news media, there are journalistic ethics and standards. We must seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent.
Press freedom in Kenya is not always guaranteed and remains fragile. There is a need for more efforts to safeguard and promote this essential democratic right. Journalists face threats, censorship, and persecution for simply doing their job. The government and those in power often attempt to suppress the press and control the narrative, making it challenging for journalists to do their work and report the truth. Some media outlets have also been shut down or suspended for allegedly violating regulations or broadcasting content that is considered critical of the government.
Because the media plays such an important role in protecting human rights, it faces opposition. To protect human rights, we must first ensure that the media and journalists are protected and in a bigger way, offer more protection to women journalists.
The freedom of the press is one of the most vital components of a democracy. Journalists are vital in the process of sharing information and communicating issues of public interest. This communication allows for citizens to effectively participate within civil society. Journalists are also tasked with the responsibility of checking the government by keeping it accountable for corruption and human rights violations. These aspects must be respected and protected by all parties in order to keep a functional democracy. The recent difficulties faced by journalists in Kenya show that their role in society is not fully respected. Not only do violations of press freedom threaten democracy, but they also threaten the universal right of free speech, making the issue relevant to all individuals.
Media freedom is a direct indicator of the civilizational progress of society and represents a critical segment of any democratic society. In the contexts where freedom of expression is not valued and press freedom is threatened, our democracy is threatened, too. As the media, we should mobilize all of our resources to maintain, advocate and advance the media freedoms, as stipulated in our constitution.
Though we are going through a particularly difficult time as a country, it is unfortunate that with it we see a growing disregard for democratic values. The media have a crucial role in upholding and restoring democracy, peace and security, and there can therefore, be no security without media freedom. To ensure media freedom is not threatened, we need unity, courage and above all, political will. It is in the interest of us all to be safe and fully enjoy our human rights.
An enabling environment for free media is not only essential for ensuring media pluralism, but also to develop and sustain inclusive and robust democratic societies. It is our duty and responsibility to ensure that Kenya does not depart from its commitments towards promoting and protecting freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom of the media, including access to media and information. The government must also recognise that independent media and freedom of expression are vital for stable and peaceful societies.
However, with the media’s great power, comes greater responsibility. Media entities in Kenya must be responsible and ready to voluntarily establish and enforce their standards and codes of conduct in their work. By setting and enforcing their ethical standards, media organizations can demonstrate their commitment to responsible journalism and avoid government interference.
The current challenges facing the media cannot be solved by any one entity. We need to create stronger alliances and support networks to help protect journalists and media outlets while also investing in quality journalism through training programs and increased funding in protecting their workforce.
Ladies and gentlemen, Media freedom, as all other fundamental freedoms and human rights, is a founding block of peace and long-term security. A lack of respect for media freedom has a negative impact on the rights of every individual, and ultimately on the stability of our society. When we look at the critical role media play, we see clearly that free and independent media are vital for overall trust in democratic institutions.
Once again, thank you to the Media Council of Kenya for inviting us to be part of today’s celebrations.
Together, we can create a world where press freedom is not only valued but protected and celebrated. As AMWIK, we will do our part. We ask you to do yours. Collectively we can. Shall we?