You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. You must defend all of it or be against all of it,” Scott Howard Phillips.
Today, we celebrate the World Press Freedom Day.
On this day, I celebrate the thousands of journalists who have risked their lives, careers, comfort and safety to defend the rights of people to know, and access truthful information.
Media freedom, especially in the age of evolving new media, and competing discourses on who is a journalist and what Journalism as a discipline entails, becomes even more pronounced.
I do not wish to be drawn into these contestations; for, indeed, whatever school of thought, the right to free expression, whether agreeable or not, is what Press Freedom is all about.
One of the greatest violators of Press Freedom is government and state actors. Globally, democracies which hitherto were greatest protectors of press freedom have turned into worst violators, albeit hushed and often covertly.
In a report published by the Council for Foreign Relations (publishers of the Foreign Affairs magazine) in April 2018, ‘Global Report on Decline of Democracy’, its findings established that countries which were traditionally democratic, including their populations, were beginning to ‘embrace illiberal democracy’ which condensed the free space for media to operate.
Writing for the Foreign Affairs, Gideon Rose, the Editor, quotes a Latin American friend quipping about the decline of democracy and shrinking of media space in the Western world: “We’ve seen this movie before, just never in English,” referring to the ‘globalized’ nature of violations.
But then, governments are known to muzzle the press.
But they are not the only culprits. In fact, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that in 2018 alone, 54 journalists were killed in their line of duty.
Of these, three (plus a media employee) were killed in the United States while in their office – working for Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland – by a gunman who had earlier filed a defamation suit against them.
Closer home, in Kenya, threats to journalists who investigate stories are prevalent. A few months ago, a Nation journalist was a victim.
Away from the lone cases of demented minds shooting at journalists, and overbearing politicians abusing their power to muzzle the media, we should examine what’s this motivation by democracies to muzzle free press.
First, international terrorism, and anti-terror laws, have become the greatest enablers of censorship and decline in media freedom across the world.
Either internally censored – to avoid deviance amplification, or through policy and regulatory regimes which criminalize free reporting on terrorism, media’s ability to freely report on terrorism has become painfully constrained. At times, completely shut. And this in happening even in countries like Kenya.
Two, commercial advertisements have become the sure-bolt to screw the media out of free reporting and investigative journalism.
The use of advertisement revenue as a leverage on ‘fair’ reporting, by both governments and corporate organizations, is perhaps the greatest threat to media freedom today, and especially in emerging democracies like Kenya. Examples abound.
And then there is the small matter of the brown envelop.
Corruption has destroyed the remaining fabric of media integrity, and eroded the ability of media practitioners to be honest defenders and gatherers of information.
For me, even as we celebrate the freedom we enjoy – the little remaining, that is – we must have an honest conversation on the future of free and ethical Journalism in an environment of entrenched corruption.
And that entails a self-reflection that anchors integrity at the core of our practice.
The views expressed in this article do not represent the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation’s Opinion.