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Ambassador McCarter’s remarks for the opening of the Kenya Editors Guild Annual Conference
December 4, 2020

Ambassador McCarter’s remarks for the opening of the Kenya Editors Guild Annual Conference

U.S. Support for Kenya Media

  • Thank you for inviting me to join you for your annual conference to speak on “Sustaining a Media that Serves the Citizen.” 
  • U.S. Embassy Nairobi has a long history of supporting Kenya’s media as a critical component of a strong, vibrant democracy. We provided the Guild with grants totaling over 30 million shillings over the past two years. We were pleased to extend our support for a third year in 2020, needed more than ever with the challenges COVID-19 has posed to the media industry.  
  • U.S. grants enable the Guild to undertake trainings by independent media professionals in investigative and ethical journalism around the country, to examine the challenges facing media through the publication of the Kenya Journalism Review, and to work with Kenya’s civil society and government to ensure accurate and impartial reporting.  
  • The United States’ commitment to a strong and independent Kenyan media doesn’t stop there.  To achieve the best possible reporting in Kenya, all voices must be heard
  • The U.S. Embassy is now in its fourth year of supporting our Women in Media mentorship program, connecting experienced female journalists, editors, and producers with young women just starting in the profession.  The program began at University of Nairobi, and because of its overwhelming success has now expanded to four additional universities around the country.  
  • And last year, we began a new partnership with the Kenya Community Support Centre (KECOSCE) to build the skills of young community radio producers on the coast to cover stories on violent extremism and recruitment within their communities while expanding the reach of their programs.
  • U.S. support to Kenya’s media is open and overt. Our support does not mix advertising with editorials nor free training with reporting. Our goal is to help sustain Kenya’s media as the free, independent, and impartial purveyors of truth to Kenya’s citizens. 

Service to Democracy: Rights…

  • Both the Kenyan and U.S. constitutions enshrine the right to freedom of the press. And both Kenyan and American media demand this freedom be respected, valued, and protected. 
  • Journalists keep citizens informed, promote robust debate, and hold leaders accountable – three critical components of true democratic government.  
  • A free press provides impartial facts for an informed electorate to mobilize, to debate, to question their leadership, and to act. State-controlled media cannot serve a democracy, nor can it provide investigative journalism. 

… and Responsibilities

  • The media, whether traditional or new, has rights and also responsibilities.  
  • Along with the constitutionally mandated right to freedom and independence of the media, journalists have the responsibility to report facts accurately, and to conduct themselves ethically and impartially.  Respect the intelligence of your readers and let them decide based on the facts.
  • Not just in Kenya, but around the world, politically motivated reporting has become a daily hazard that we must continue to fight through insisting on excellence and the highest standards in our own work and news outlets.

Media Suppression

  • 2020 has been a challenging year for media around the world and here in Kenya. 
  • Journalists and editors have lost their jobs, had their salaries cut, and been subject to growing pressure to increase the bottom line so news outlets can remain in business.
  • But to serve its citizens, media must resist the urge to self-censor in the interests of advertising or other revenue. 
  • Now more than ever, the full facts must be given in each story, not just those that pay the bills. Facts can be stubborn things. 
  • Media suppression is just as dangerous as censorship and shutting down media houses.
  • The economic challenges are pushing some to create new opportunities for independent voices using technology that requires little start up capital.
  • Let me give some advice to start-ups. Don’t just be sensational in headlines and opposition. Do the homework and research the facts. 

In Conclusion

  • All democracies face challenges living up to the ideals enshrined in our constitutions.  It’s not the absence of problems but how we respond to them that defines the strength of our democratic systems.  
  • As a fellow democracy, we in the United States know that the freedoms and rights that Kenyan media enjoys have been hard won.  As those in the business of truth, we must all protect freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and indeed, all of the civil rights that are the cornerstones of a free society.  
  • The United States is, and will remain, your friend and partner in the protection of these rights. With these rights and responsibilities, Kenyan media will continue to serve its citizens.