How Kenyan media can navigate Covid-19 crisis

Monday, May 4th, 2020 00:00 | By
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe addresses the media at Afya House in Nairobi. Photo/PD/FILE

Maina Muiruri  

Last week I should have returned to Kenya from the Netherlands, having attended a four-day global conference that was to be a precursor to the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) 2020 that was marked yesterday.

However, I never travelled to The Hague, the Dutch city of international justice that is one of my dream bucket list destinations, thanks to Covid-19. 

Yesterday I spent the morning on my dining table taking part in a virtual meeting of East African editors marking the WPFD 2020, while today I will attend another Webinar, organised by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) to mark the same event, from the same table. 

Despite the disruptions to travel and big hall meetings that we are used to, it is impressive to note that media stakeholders have put great efforts to keep the industry alive and remain focused on goals that preceded the virus. 

The two virtual meetings kept alive the theme, ‘Journalism Without Fear or Favour’, of the WPFD 2020 that was also the banner of the Hague meeting that never was. 

The virtual engagements may not have taken place in the lavish ballroom of a Nairobi five star hotel, but the MCK, supported by UNESCO Regional Office for East Africa and Transparency International Kenya will converge Kenyan media on virtual space to discuss pertinent issues affecting the industry and journalists amid the crisis.

It has been loss upon loss for global economies and businesses and the media are not exempt. It was only fitting that the stakeholders discuss burning issues that need to be dealt with to cushion media from severe effects of the pandemic.

High priority for the MCK Webinar today will be a discussion on safety and protection of journalists in the wake of the pandemic, and proposal for solutions to the challenges as well as an action plan for the proposals.

The forum will also be an opportune moment to share data on how the pandemic has affected journalists who are frontline workers and to outline mitigation measures.

Some of the measures that MCK had already rolled out will be worthy of note, and could be enhanced depending on views voiced by stakeholders.

The MCK had already made available a special Covid-19 press badge for journalists and non-journalists working in media houses, to enable ease of movement during the curfew and blockade of Nairobi and some coastal counties.

The MCK is also in the middle of managing a donor-funded programme issuing travel grants to enable journalists to do Covid-19 related stories.

The project, supported by OSIEA, will enable journalists, especially from vulnerable regions, to deliver stories using the grants that media houses may be constrained to offer at such a time.

And the council is also rolling out a government-funded programme to financially assist community radio stations to enable them sustain jobs while playing one of their key roles, which is to reach rural areas with government messaging related to the pandemic.

Still, being a day that is set out to highlight media freedom and independence, it is fitting to remind the government and media owners that the delicate economic environment forced by the pandemic should be navigated carefully to ensure rights of journalists are not trampled on.

According to a report released last week by the International Peace Institute, the state of press freedom has gone down, as some governments are including sweeping media control measures alongside Covid-19 regulations.

The report cited Africa as among regions where arrests, censorship and physical attacks have escalated during the coronavirus crisis. 

While Kenya is not listed in the extreme bracket, that is not to say all is well. All mainstream media houses have resorted to salary cuts for staff due to dwindling revenues.

However, the least that could be asked of media houses is to guarantee jobs security even as the world waits out the passing of the crisis.

I draw confidence from the WPFD 2020 theme, ‘Journalism Without Fear or Favour’ to say, we will return to better times. — The writer is the chairman, Media Council of Kenya

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