Kenya on May 3, 2015 joined the rest of the world to mark the World Press Freedom day set aside to celebrate the fundamental values of press freedom and the need for governments across the world to uphold media freedom.
The press commonly referred as to the ‘fourth estate’ plays a very important role in the society as it keeps the masses informed on what is happening. It also acts as the the society’s watchdog by exposing corruption and any injustices meted out to citizens.
Due to the integral role that the media plays in the society, quality journalism is of essence and journalists at all costs should adhere to the professional codes of ethics. Journalists are required to practice accurate, objective and fair reporting. They should remain independent and impartial in their work.
However, the need for quality journalism and media freedom in the country is becoming a constant concern due to technological, governance and commercial developments.
Although the current constitution passed in 2010 was extolled for expanding freedoms of expression of the press, there is a general feeling that the Jubilee government is out to curtail that freedom through prohibitive laws, with the security laws being the most recent.
Increased reports of brutality aimed at journalists and arbitrary arrests of bloggers and other social media users has been a major concern to many media players. In the most recent case, two journalists were beaten and seriously injured by General Service Unit (GSU) police officers at a ranch in Tana River County.
NTV’s Nehemiah Okwemba and Reuben Ogonda of Citizen TV, based in Malindi, were attacked by the officers when they went to cover a story on alleged corruption in the Agriculture Development Finance Cooperation ranch in Galana.
As the world marked the day, there is need for the Kenyan media fraternity to take stock of such cases of brutality and explore ways in which further attacks on journalists can avoided in the future. This is especially so as Eldoret based journalist John Kituyi was murdered by unknown assailants this last week.
Questions of who is a journalist have also been raised with many media houses in Kenya accused of employing media workers as opposed to trained journalists. The emergence of bloggers as reporters has also complicated the practical definition of a journalist.
Media Council of Kenya Program Officer Victor Bwire has been on the record calling for media houses to employ professionally trained journalists.
“What we have in many media houses in Kenya are media workers who have never entered a journalism class, journalism is a profession like any other,” he said in Machakos during a media-training workshop.
In Bwire’s argument, the that fact that a person has a talent in comedy or blogging does not make him/ her a journalist. He argues that a journalist is a person trained and equipped with the skills of the profession.
But it is perhaps the emergence of social media that has changed the media landscapes in Kenya in the recent past. The growing use of social media platforms to report news has led to citizen journalism with ordinary Kenyans instantaneously reporting news and sharing it to the rest of the world using the new media.
The emergence of the new phenomenon has changed the way journalists operate because, more often than not, breaking news are now being reported in social media platforms first before they make it to the mainstream media.
For instance the terrorists attack at the Wetsgate in Nairobi where more than 67 people were killed and scores injured was first tweeted. Thanks to citizen journalism incidents in far flung areas in Makueni like human wildlife conflicts and several road accidents along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway hit mainstream media headlines faster than before as residents on social media in those areas capture the events and share the new platforms.
The availability of these social media tools has therefore helped journalists in covering events that take place in areas that would otherwise take long to access. Journalists are also using the social media as a source for developing their content and many now write articles based on opinions and updates of social media users.
However, social media platforms are awash with inaccurate information and journalists need to verify the stories before they can report air them on mainstream media. Although most of the stories are verifiable others are just but mere rumors.
It is no doubt that social media has aided journalism but on the flipside, the preserve for reporting breaking news by traditional media as witnessed before is long gone and journalists have to compete with the social networks to break news. The fact that they should verity facts from relevant authorities makes it even harder for journalists to achieve the fete.
There has been a raging debate that citizen journalism is slowly edging out the practice of professional journalism but it should be noted that journalism is a profession guided by ethics and laws unlike citizen reporting which has no clear guidelines.
Opponents of professional media argue that the new media cannot replace professional journalism as it is just another source of content for journalists. However the fact that the social media networks help citizens and even journalists get access to information or news that would otherwise been impossible should not be underrated.
Social media is a tool whose power can be harnessed to influence masses across the globe, just like the traditional media and it should be utilized well for the sake of the masses.The line for citizen and professional journalism many may argue is blurring but the future for the two fields should remain distinct and play a complimentary rather than a competing role.
As the world celebrates the press freedom day whose theme is the media’s importance in development; the safety of journalists and the rule of law; the sustainability and integrity of journalism, journalists should embrace social media platforms in their reporting to help them remain relevant in this digital era.