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DCM Eric Kneedler Remarks for the Kenya Editors Guild Annual Editors’ Convention
December 6, 2019

Deputy Chief of Mission, Eric Kneedler Remarks for the Kenya Editors Guild Annual Editors’ Convention

Mombasa, Kenya

Good morning!  I’m very pleased to join you today for the Kenya Editors Guild’s second annual Editors’ Convention.  Congratulations to KEG and Chairman Churchill Otieno for your work reconvening this important gathering of editors, journalists, academics, government, and civil society representatives and for your collective commitment to defending and promoting a free, vibrant, and professional media in – and for – Kenya.

I’d also like to recognize with us today:

Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, Ministry of Information Communication and Technology (ICT)

Principal Secretary Jerome Ochieng, Ministry of Information Communication and Technology (ICT)

Maina Muiruri, Chairman, Media Council of Kenya

David Omwoyo, Chief Executive, Media Council of Kenya

Orlando Lyomu, CEO, Standard Group

The United States Embassy is proud to be a supporter of the Kenya Editors Guild Press Freedom initiative, and this convention is a critical component of those efforts. The U.S. Embassy provided the Guild a 20 million Kenyan shillings grant last year, and we were pleased to extend it for a second year with additional funding to expand media freedom and independence in Kenya and to improve the professionalism of Kenyan editors.  This grant enables 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. With women comprising more than 50 percent of Kenya’s population, the media must include women in all positions to fully represent the voices and stories of all Kenyans.  The U.S. Embassy is now in its third 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 five additional universities around the country.

And just this year, we partnered with the Kenya Community Support Centre (KECOSCE) on a new grant to build the skills of young community radio producers on the coast to effectively cover stories on violent extremism and recruitment within their communities while expanding the reach of their programs.

Section 34 of the Kenya Constitution guarantees the freedom and independence of electronic, print, and all other types of media.  All of us here today understand the relationship between a free press and a healthy democracy.  Simply put, democracy cannot flourish without a free and independent media.  An electorate must have access to accurate, timely and impartial information to make informed decisions on who they will vote for and where they stand on the issues of the day.  Sadly, around the world, we are seeing examples of free media under threat.

Journalists keep citizens informed, promote robust debate, and hold leaders accountable – three critical components of true democratic government.  State-controlled media cannot serve a democracy, nor can it provide investigative journalism. The foundational document of U.S. democracy, our constitution, enshrines the right to freedom of the press. American media demands this freedom be respected, valued, and protected as it has been for almost 250 years. A free press provides impartial facts for an informed electorate to mobilize, to debate, to question their leadership, and to act. We must remain vigilant to guarantee access to information for future generations.  Through this grant, Kenyan journalists will have the opportunity to engage with independent U.S. media professionals and organizations to discuss the importance of an independent, free media to a democracy.

Corruption cannot survive the sunlight of open investigation.  We do see excellent investigative journalism unearthing corruption in Kenya, but we need more of it to reveal the depth and impact of theft of public resources.  The fight against corruption and impunity is treacherous because corruption fights back.  The danger to journalists is real, but journalists must avoid accepting handouts and bribes from the corrupt to kill investigative stories.  Just as the media demands high ethical standards of public figures and government officials, journalists and their media houses must also exhibit high standards and ethical considerations if the fight against corruption is to succeed.

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, to refrain from inciting hate, and to conduct themselves ethically and impartially.  Not just in Kenya, but around the world, politically motivated reporting and hate speech have 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.

I was pleased to note in the convention brochure that the intention of this gathering is to address a wide range of issues and that “no topic will be out of bounds”.  Free speech is a hard won and dearly held right in the United States, and we fully support the Guild in its promotion of this ideal in all that they do.  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 freedoms and rights that Kenyans enjoy 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.