December 8, 2018, at 9:00 am, Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel
Cabinet Secretary Mucheru,
Ladies and gentlemen of the media,
And assembled guests,
Hamjambo. Habari zenu?
I’m very pleased to join you today for the inaugural Editors’ Convention, bringing together media owners, editors, and journalists to examine the state of Kenya’s media as part of a strong, healthy democracy. Congratulations to KEG and Chairman Churchill Otieno for your work establishing this convention and to all of you for your commitment to defending and promoting a free, vibrant, and professional media in – and for – Kenya.
The United States Embassy is pleased to support the Kenya Editors Guild Press Freedom initiative and this convention. The U.S. Embassy has provided the Guild a 20 million Kenyan shillings grant to assist with media freedom and independence in Kenya. This grant enables the Guild to undertake training in investigative and ethical journalism, to examine the challenges facing media, and to work with Kenya’s government and civil society to ensure accurate and impartial reporting.
Our support to the Guild is only the latest example of the U.S. Embassy’s professional training and development of Kenyan journalists. In the last year, we trained dozens of journalists across Kenya, working in English, Swahili, and other languages on reporting on such issues as elections and hate speech. The digital media is equally important – we’ve provided training for bloggers and online influencers to enhance their key role in recognizing and combatting fake news. The #StopReflectVerify campaign reached millions of online news consumers and producers and has remained a trending topic almost a year after its start.
But to achieve the best reporting possible in Kenya, we would also urge that the role of women in media be expanded. Women account for more than 50 percent of the country’s population, and the media should include women in all positions to fully represent the voices and stories of all Kenyans. To that end, the U.S. Embassy will fund a Women in Media mentorship program for a second year, connecting experienced female journalists, editors, and producers with young women just starting in the profession. The program began in Nairobi and will now expand to Kisumu in partnership with the International Association of Women in Radio and Television.
All of us here today understand the critical role of a free media in democracy. Simply put, democracy will wither without a free and independent media. For voters in a democracy to play their role and express their will, they must have accurate and impartial information available. A free media can help address societal challenges as well, including corruption. Indeed, the scourge of corruption in Kenya cannot survive the sunlight of open investigation and honest reporting. Journalists keep citizens informed, promote robust debate, and hold leaders accountable. In a strong democracy, it is those debates that improve the policies and programs that governments deliver to citizens.
For journalists to do their vital job, however, they must be able to work free of harassment, censorship, or intimidation. Threats and intimidation of journalists are unacceptable. Not everyone will agree with everything that is published by a free press. But, a free, impartial, and accurate media helps ensure that citizens have the facts to make up their own minds.
The media, whether traditional or new, has rights and also responsibilities. Along with their constitutionally mandated right to freedom and independence of electronic, print, and all other types of media, journalists have the responsibility to report facts accurately, to refrain from inciting hate, and to conduct themselves ethically and impartially. Not just in Kenya, but around the world we are seeing and feeling the impact of fake news, of misinformation being maliciously disseminated and then being amplified by others, including by people who sometimes don’t recognize that what they are spreading are lies.
Let me repeat what I have said before: Fake news is undermining democracy in Kenya. It is eroding confidence in the news media, and a free and strong media is essential for a strong nation. Stopping the spread of fake news is everyone’s responsibility, and it requires strong collaboration between the media and the public.
All democracies face challenges living up to the ideals enshrined in their constitutions. It is not the absence of problems but how we address them and how we respond to them that determines the strength of our democracies. Here in Kenya you all know that freedom and rights are hard won and the importance of preserving them. We should all protect freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and indeed all of the civil rights that are the cornerstones of a free society. As always, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the Kenyan people.
Pamoja tusonge mbele.