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Denying scribes access to information a disservice to public

By People Daily
Monday, May 3rd, 2021
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In summary

Kevin Mabonga 

Today, the world is reflecting on press freedom and professional ethics to mark the World Press Freedom Day.

This is an occasion that serves to remind governments of the need to respect commitments to press freedom and access to information.

This year’s theme “Information as a Public Good” is relevant given the circumstances we are living in occasioned by Covid-19.

There has never been a better time for the public to get timely and accurate information.

The pandemic has had a profound effect not only on our health but also how we communicate and share information placing digital communication as important as ever. 

Press freedom is not only relevant to journalists or media practitioners but to everyone. It is a basic human right.

In the words of reknowned journalist Walter Cronkite, freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.

A free press ensures an open exchange of information between citizens and governments.

An important principle worth noting is the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees the freedom of expression, to hold opinions, to receive and impart information and ideas through any media.

Many countries have incorporated freedom of media and the right to access information in respective Constitutions.

Article 33 of our Constitution guarantees the freedom of expression, Article 34 on freedom of the media while Article 35 provides the right to access information.

What is Kenya’s press freedom status? Reporters without Borders ranks Kenya at 102 of 180 countries this year with a score of 33.65, a slight drop by 0.07 last year.

This means we are in the ‘problematic category’, a reminder we need to improve on some key important indicators of press freedom, including pluralism, media independence, self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, infrastructure and abuses. 

Even though no journalist was killed within the period, there have been cases where journalists have been physically assaulted or intimidated while on duty.

During the pandemic, several journalists have been barred to access information because of government restrictions. 

A notable positive, however, is that media houses and institutions have come out strongly to condemn the acts, reminding the concerned to respect journalists and follow the right procedure in case they have complaints against members of the Fourth Estate or a media house.

Such efforts will help to reduce cases of interference with journalists’ work. 

Another major challenge to press freedom is access to information. While the Constitution and the Access to Information Act guarantee the right to access information, there are several instances where information has been denied.

The Act advocates proactive disclosure of information especially by public bodies. This leaves the public more informed and promotes transparency and accountability.

When journalists fail to get information that affects the public, it means the public misses out on essential information that may be critical to their survival.

It is frustrating that at a period when it is almost impossible to access offices physically or have face-to-face meetings, one would struggle to access relevant information from government because the website or digital platforms are not functional or contain outdated information. 

It is important that laws on freedom of the press are respected and scribes on duty protected.

Agencies should ensure enough structures for easy access to information and effective feedback mechanisms.

Some effort should go towards educating the public on relevant law on the right to access information. 

Happy World Press Freedom Day. — The writer is the Communications and Public Liaison officer at Katiba Institute

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