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JOURNALISM IN KENYA, MEDIA FREEDOM, AND WHAT RUTO REALLY SAID IN ADDIS ABABA MEDIA SPEECH

On 15 November the Kenya Forum posted an article on the subject of what Deputy President William Ruto did, or did not say in a speech to ‘African media leaders’ in Addis Abba (‘What did Ruto really say on press freedom in Addis Ababa?’). Originally it was envisaged that the article would be an attack on Ruto for threatening media freedoms in Kenya following two articles in the Sunday and Daily Nation by Macharia Gaitho, the Chairman of the Editors Guild, that warned of the Deputy President’s ‘chilling message’ but then our research seemed to show a discrepancy between what Ruto had said and what Macharia Gaitho said he had said.

MAINA KIAI ‘STUNNED’

Maina Kiai ‘stunned’

Meanwhile, Maina Kiai, writing in last week’s Saturday Nation, joined in the criticism of Ruto seemingly based on what he had read in one of Gaitho’s articles. ‘I was stunned reading Macharia Gaitho’s short piece in this week’s Sunday Nation quoting William Ruto’s remarks at the African Media Leadership Forum in Addis Ababa’, wrote Kiai. But was Gaitho ‘quoting’ Ruto?

‘I am tempted to believe he [Ruto] did not read through the speech before giving it. For there can’t be any other rational reason for such factually wrong and woeful sentiments’, wrote Maina Kiai.

The Kenya Forum does not know whether Deputy President Ruto did read through his speech before delivering it but we do doubt whether Mr Kiai read Ruto’s speech, rather than just reading Macharia Gaitho’s article, before setting his fingers to the keyboard. This is not just because Kiai’s article refers only to what Ruto was ‘reported to have said’ but also because it has taken the Kenya Forum nearly two weeks to get a transcript of the speech (see below) and we doubt Maini Kiai had a copy at the time of writing (hell, who cares, why bother with primary sources?!).

‘BASIC JOURNALISTIC VALUES’

Writing in today’s Daily Nation (‘Proposed media law the wrong solution to a real problem with journalism’), Michael Mayer, a former communications director for UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and now the dean of the Graduate School of Media and Communications at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, bemoaned the state of the media in Kenya. ‘It is not uncommon for reporters to make up quotes, even whole stories’, he wrote. ‘Too many articles are drawn from a single source, often unnamed’, he continued. ‘Too often, insufficient attention is paid to basic journalistic values: fairness, balance and accuracy’.

Quite so Mr Mayer, says the Kenya Forum, but if you really want an example of staggeringly bad journalism and editing as an example for your students, try looking at the Kenya Forum postings on how one aspect of the TJRC’s report was covered by the Daily Nation, ‘The TJRC report: How it was reported’ (24 May) and ‘TJRC’s dramatic findings about Dr Robert Ouko’s murder: Why was it not reported?’ (27 May).

WE HAVE A PROBLEM…

Michael Meyer argued for ‘better self-regulation’ of the media, by the media. The Kenya Forum agrees. We are also are thoroughly opposed to the Media Bill as it currently stands in parliament (see ‘President Kenyatta – Please do not sign this bill into law!’, 1 November) and we carry no flag for William Ruto but there is a problem.

You could complain about Macharia Gaitho’s articles to the Editors Guild, but Mr Gaitho is that body’s chairman. You could complain about Gaitho’s and Kiai’s articles in the Daily and Sunday Nation, or indeed the Nation’s coverage of the TJRC report and the murder of Dr Robert Ouko, to the Media Council but then again the chairman of the Media Council is Mr Joseph Odindo, Group Editorial Director of… the Nation Media Group.

So this is the problem: self-regulation of the media in Kenya isn’t really working and regulation by the government isn’t an option that the Kenya Forum would want to see. The media houses need to put their house in order regarding their ‘journalistic standards’ before it is too late and we have the horror of politicians trying to do it for them.

JUDGE FOR YOURSELF…

Deputy President William Ruto – what did he really say?

Anyway, now judge for yourself what Deputy President Ruto said in Addis Ababa (see also Kenya Forum article for what Ruto was reported to have said in ‘round table discussions’ and Main Kaii’s article ‘No Mr Ruto, freedoms are not alien but as African as our own rhythms!’, Daily Nation, November 16).

Here is his speech in full (sub-headlines inserted by the Kenya Forum by way of presentation).

SPEECH BY HIS EXCELLENCY HON. WILLIAM RUTO, EGH, DEPUTY PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF KENYA,  AT THE 2013 AFRICA MEDIA LEADERS’ FORUM IN ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA 9 NOVEMBER 2013

Excellencies Heads of State; African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka; Media Leaders; Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me begin by thanking you for inviting us to this year’s Africa Media Leaders Forum, where you bring the continent’s media thought leaders to discuss current challenges, and unveil some home-grown solutions.

In a decade in which Africa is recognized as a rising continent, it feels good to be amongst Africans that see themselves as part the solution, rather than one of its perennial problems.

Our coming here is part of our government’s outreach to various stakeholders in our economic, political and social scene. It provides an opportunity and avenue to share the progress we are making as a country and a continent, and our views on the way forward. We have, here in the historic home of the African Union, a candid forum through which we can identify what issues Governments have regarding media, and, as media owners and editors, you can raise what concerns you have in performing your work as we seek pursue our shared goal of growing our continent.

“A FREE MEDIA IS AT THE HEART OF DEMOCRACY”

The essential role of the media is advancing the cause of good governance. It is based on the principles of democracy and the independent sharing of responsibilities between the three arms of government the Judiciary, the Executive and the Legislature as enshrined in our constitution. The media, the Fourth Estate, is an essential collaborating element in the evolution of modern standards of governance.

Technical advances and the presence of the Internet provide the media with unprecedented advantages to further the interests of humankind in modern societies, and certainly reach even the furthest points in our country.

A free media is at the heart of true democracy. I am happy that in Kenya, we don’t even have a debate about free media any more. That for us is a given. Our commitment is to better ensure how the media can more effectively support our democracy by promoting prudent governance.

“WHAT WE WANT IS OPENESS AND TRANSPARENCY”

In an ideal world, the media should provide a realm for debate and a lubricant to the effective functioning of democratic processes. The Media should be the voice of the people accommodating all voices ensuring that the more dominant voices in our systems do not crowd out the lesser ensuring that marginal voices and ideas are also heard.

The success of our democracy lies in treating information as a public good to which all citizens have equal rights. Such information could be market prices of farm produce, national economic data or even the latest government policy on particular issues of interest. We are not interested in government control and propaganda. That would be a disservice to the role of the media in nation building. What we want is openness and transparency that offers benefits to Kenyans.

MEDIA BILL “CONTENTIOUS”

So, having said that, you might ask, what is the furore about muzzling the media in Kenya? What is that noise about new draconian laws, you might ask?

Our parliament has passed a bill that we admit is contentious. I will not discuss the bill itself, but I would like to state the key principles in how we approach legislation, and what determines whether or not our president signs it into law.

First, that there is adherence and consistency with the constitution.

Second, that media regulation is performed by a truly independent body — free of government, political or commercial interests. In my country, the argument has largely been that self-regulation is the accepted norm. The Kenyan constitution appears to differ because media has commercial interests, which is why there are several hundred media owners here. Media Owners are not the best advocates of media freedom because they, necessarily, think about commercial interests.

Third, that it must be understood that media freedom comes with immense responsibility. In our case, there is a raging debate about how one punishes irresponsibility. In a penal system, it is quite clear that specific punishments are meted out for specific crimes. The way media works, there are very broad guidelines that make specific punishments difficult to agree. The bottom line is that there has to be a way in which acts that damage other people’s reputations are dealt with.

“WE CANNOT AFFORD NOT TO WORK TOGETHER”

The relationship between Government and media does not need to be adversarial. There should be, and there will be, channels of communication through which media can easily engage Governments. Government, too, will provide information on what it is doing, and respond to matters that the media are interested in. We can, and we will, disagree, but we cannot afford not to work together in mutual respect. For example, the Government sometimes finds the media pursuing an agenda that is not in the public interest and elevating falsehoods and wrong perceptions to national debate. This is a matter that you must search your conscience over.

What I ask of you today is a partnership for Africa. We may serve in different arms of government and society but we all share a common goal to make our continent a better home for all of us. I ask this of you because our continent faces challenges that need our joint efforts.

“BEAUTIFUL AFRICAN NARRATIVE THAT NEEDS TO BE TOLD”

There is a beautiful African narrative that needs to be told. A narrative of hope, as opposed to a narrative of despair; We should lift our people up, not work to sink their spirits every day; as a continent, we have our problems; but as a continent, we can and will make it. We must stand up for hope. You, the media, must write stories of hope.

As Government, we will try as much as possible to do our bit, but we need you as partners with the right mindsets, the right ideas and, of course, this is the right time. This is Africa’s moment.

You occupy a special place through which you can guide public debate for the benefit, not just for the media or Government, but the whole continent and all our one billion people. I, therefore, urge you to refocus the debate to issues that move our continent forward so that it is not stuck in matters that are not useful to national affairs.

NEW MEDIA “PRESENT GLORIOUS INDUSTRY OPPORTUNITIES”

I am sure you have discussed here the latest challenges and opportunities the industry faces and proposed some ways of tackling both.

But let me start by suggesting strongly that increased access to mobile phones and the internet has given rise to greater accessibility to new media that resonates well with our young population. However even those of us born before the computer age, appreciate the contribution of these new avenues of communication. Tools such as S.M.S., blogs, and social networking websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Myspace are here to stay and present glorious industry opportunities. On the downside, there is the small matter of what to do with new media assassins.

In Kenya we have turned to digitization to fight vices like corruption and nepotism. Yesterday, I was present when our President launched Huduma Centres – one stop business kiosks that where citizens can access service from government across a number of areas.

We are looking to digitization to help us address the environmental challenges Africa must deal with due to the effects of climate change.

In conclusion, I believe you also discussed the question of migration to digital platforms, another of the issues that arouse great debate in Kenya. We are determined to migrate in a way that is coherent and smooth. But migrating is an imperative that must be achieved, and media owners should really focus on getting it to work.

Excellencies

Ladies and Gentlemen

I thank you for your kind attention.

The late Christabel talks about Dr Ouko’s return from Washington.

Sam Okello talking about Mrs Ouko

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