COVID-19 pandemic dominates World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) celebrations in Kenya

This year’s World Press Freedom Day was marked under the dark cloud of COVID-19 and its impact on journalists as front line workers. The influence of the pandemic on the practice of journalism in Kenya dominated conversations in a commemorative webinar hosted by the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, in partnership with Media Council of Kenya and Transparency International. The webinar brought together Government representatives, media regulatory bodies, journalist associations, editors, reporters, programmers, development practitioners, bloggers, academic and students.

The media in Kenya has been affected by business disruption as well as measures instituted by the Kenyan government to contain the spread of COVID-19, including: countrywide dusk-to-dawn curfew and cessation of movement into and out of the capital Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa.

The focus of the webinar, held on 4 May 2020—a day after the 27th edition of the annual World Press Freedom Day, was promoting freedom of expression, safety, and security of journalists as frontline workers during the pandemic in Kenya. It also aimed at providing a platform for sharing data on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected journalists, reflections on challenges and interventions, and action plans for media’s frontline workers during the COVID 19 pandemic in Kenya

Celebrating press freedom, more than ever, is celebrating democracy, is valorizing truth, is protecting and promoting human rights. Therefore, we must applaud our journalists. We must protect our fact checkers. They are essential pieces of this complex puzzle to tackle this pandemic and the disinfodemic associated to it
Mr. Guilherme Canela, UNESCO Chief of Section for Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists

Mr Canela added that UNESCO, in its continued support to fostering freedom of expression, safety of journalists and access to information has prepared a policy brief on Journalism, press freedom and COVID-19, that draws attention to main trends of the current crisis while highlighting risks to freedom of expression that are embedded in some of the emergency laws and administrative decisions issued by different authorities. The policy brief highlights documented cases of violence against journalists for their reporting against the pandemic, warning that media outlets could disappear if concrete economic measures are not taken.

Ms. Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, UNESCOs Director and Regional Representative for Eastern Africa region stated that media freedom and access to reliable and factual information is essential in tackling the spread of COVID-19

Access to fact-based and verified information has never been as important. We are pleased that the media in Kenya is playing a critical and positive role in supporting the Government to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic
Ms. Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, UNESCOs Director and Regional Representative for Eastern Africa region

Ms. Ndong Jatta reiterated the recent call by UN Secretary General, António Guterres to Governments, warning that as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, it is also giving rise to another pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. This thus, calls for the creation of a conducive working environment and support for journalists to do their jobs.

The CEO of the Media Council of Kenya, who officially opened the online webinar, thanked UNESCO for its continued support and partnership. He stated that the pandemic has seen media houses lose revenue through reduced advertising, leading to layoffs, pay cuts and work from home policies. In addition to this, harassment by security agencies enforcing curfew measures, limited access to information especially on government measures to mitigate the pandemic has hampered the press in Kenya. These challenges he said, have affected media independence, thus compromising professionalism.

Mr. Omwoyo further stated that Kenya dropped three places and is currently ranked position 103 out of 180 countries globally in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. This, he noted, is a worrying trend and can only be remedied by the media continuing to highlight and isolate individual perpetrators of heinous crimes against journalists and ensuring that justice is served

Thinking that the rights of journalists to be protected can exist amidst rampant cases of human rights violations is a fallacy. We need to point out these perpetrators and do it repeatedly to effect change
Mr. Omwoyo -The CEO of the Media Council of Kenya

During the celebrations, the Media Council of Kenya led the industry in releasing a position statement on status of press freedom, challenges, and interventions, with special focus on issues of safety during the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya. The statement was endorsed by Media Council of Kenya, Kenya Editors Guild, Transparency International, Kenya Union of Journalists, Association of Media Women in Kenya, Community Radios Network, Kenya Correspondents Association and Association of Freelance Journalists,

During the webinar, participants discussed and reflected with media stakeholders on Safety of Journalists, Access to Information and Accountability during coverage of COVID-19 Pandemic and on Voices from Frontline Workers Covering the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya.

The World Press Freedom Day is commemorated on 3rd May every year. It celebrates fundamental principles of press freedom; assesses the state of press freedom throughout the world; shares information on journalists’ attacks and violations against press freedom with stakeholders and defends the media from attacks; pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty; and self-reflects on the performance of the media industry