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ACCURATE REPORTING AND FREE SPEECH OR ‘HATE SPEECH’ IN KENYA

The executive director of Peace Pena Communications, Mildred Ngesa, has called on journalists ‘to employ professionalism in reporting to pass the correct message to the public’ according to The Star (the Kenya Forum assumes The Star meant ‘accurate’ rather than ‘correct’).

Information Secretary Ezekiel Mutua - “ignore all politicians who promote hate”

On the same day The Star also reported that Information Secretary Ezekiel Mutua, speaking to representatives from the ‘Mkenya Daima initiative’ (a group that apparently ‘brings together the business sector, civil society and inter-religious groups with a view of inspiring peaceful elections’) had criticised the media for “teaching politicians to dramatise their speeches and insult others to get coverage” (‘Give blackout to hate propagators, media told’, The Star, June 12).

“Now is the time”, said Mutua, “we as media make a choice and ignore all politicians who promote hate”. He continued, “This is a choice we must take to promote peace but it should not be considered as a curtailment to press freedom”.

ACCURATE REPORTING GOOD, BUT RESERVATIONS ABOUT “HATE SPEECH”

The Kenya Forum regularly calls for ‘accurate’ reporting in our newspapers and for both reporters and editors to be more diligent in getting simple facts right (e.g., see the ‘Reporting of CJ Willy Mutunga’, below) so we fully endorse the views expressed by Mildred Ngesa. We support also the spirit behind Ezekiel Mutua’s call to ignore politicians who “promote hate” but we have reservations about its implications.

Despite Mutua’s assurance to the contrary there is a grave risk that press freedom and free speech will be curtailed and he surely demonstrated a lack of understanding as to how the media, and in turn politicians, operate.

One man’s criticism is another man’s hate speech. We must make sure that defining a politician’s comment as “hate speech” just because we disagree with it, is not used to crush his or her right to express their views forcibly.

NEWSPAPERS AND THE MARKET

And Ezekiel Mutua, as an ‘Information Secretary’ should know that a headline reading, ‘Politician X sets out his policies’, does not catch the eye as readily as ‘Politician X slams into his politician Y’. That’s what the market (the readers) responds to, the newspaper editors know their market, so that’s what the papers will write – and the politicians know it.

President Kenyatta declared winner.

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