Welcoming our New Press Attache, Fiona Evans, to Kenya
by U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec
Ladies and Gentlemen, Hamjambo! Habari Zenu?
Thank you all for coming tonight to welcome my new Press Attaché Fiona Evans. I hope you all have the chance this evening to meet and get to know Fiona. She is a native of New England, and a graduate of Tufts University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She began her career with the U.S. Foreign Service in 2000. Most of her career has been in Europe, and this is her first assignment in Africa. Most recently, she worked in the Public Affairs Section at U.S. Embassy Berlin.
Fiona leads a strong team that helps connect all of you to the U.S. Mission and to American foreign policy. Let me point them out to you Jim Onyango, Hilda Nakhwanga, Amos Rono, Jessica Neatherlin and Peter Gichinga, who couldn’t join us tonight. Their role is to foster dialogue with the media, provide factual and timely information about the United States and its policies, and help amplify the message about the committed work the Embassy is doing to strengthen the partnership between the United States and Kenya.
And that’s important because in a democracy, a free and active media is critical. John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, called the press “a critical branch, the fourth estate [of government].” One of our earliest Presidents went even further. Thomas Jefferson once said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
The U.S. Government is committed to freedom of expression – including the media – both at home and around the world. We cannot take this fundamental right for granted. In too many countries around the world, there is no freedom of the media. In others, the media is under attack. Both our countries have seen efforts, sometimes successful, to limit media freedom. In Kenya, your new constitution includes strong protections for both freedom of the media and expression. But that has not stopped the challenges and attempts to limit these critical freedoms.
The better news is that Kenya has successfully overcome challenges this year: In April, the judiciary ruled unconstitutional a section of the Kenya Information and Communications Act that had been used to prosecute at least 16 online activists. In August, the Access to Information Bill became law.
In recent days, however, we’ve all seen troubling news about the Kenya Film Classification Board’s proposed “Film, Stage Plays and Publications Act of 2016,” which would require Kenyans posting any videos on the Internet and social media platforms to register all of their content for classification. In addition to being difficult to enforce, these proposed regulations would stifle expression. A democracy depends on the transparency and openness provided by a free media and freedom of expression. Citizens need factual and credible information in order to make independent judgments and informed decisions … and so … they can demand accountability.
A free, and responsible, media is also acutely important as we approach elections – both in the United States and Kenya. The media has a critical role in conveying factual information to the public about candidates and about the elections. As part of its job, the media should discourage hate speech and ensure messages of violence are not amplified.
Whether it is conveying facts around elections or carrying out investigative reporting to strengthen governance, this much is clear: a free, strong media is essential to building a democratic, prosperous and secure country. I commend all of you for the work you are doing. The U.S. government and the American people – and my Mission and I personally — stand firmly with you and on the side of freedom of the media and freedom of expression.
So, thank you again for coming this evening and let me conclude simply by encouraging all of you to reach out to Fiona and her team with your questions and information needs. Let’s keep the lines of communication open.
Please join me in giving Fiona a warm Karibu to Kenya.
Pamoja tusonge mbele. Asanteni sana.