In the recent past, the channels through which we receive news and information have evolved; from print and broadcast to digital channels now dominating the scene. We always look forward to receiving factual news from journalists and reporters despite the kind of media used. We live in a modern age where the media is increasingly dominated by fake news, alternative facts, contradictions, and incomplete information. This has made people very skeptical about news sources both the traditional newspaper and digital media alike. While some journalists have braved hostile climates to unearth the true facts about certain events and happenings, others have been coerced into misrepresenting the true facts, especially when it comes to reporting about powerful people and the government.
Responsible journalism is the cornerstone for freedom of democracy but sometimes we are disappointed by some journalists and reporters who incite controversy by publishing ideas that could be described as nothing else but patently absurd. They always look for a way of turning every ludicrous statement into a leading question. Many media firms in the country have at one time had their trustworthiness called into question due to publishing false or inaccurate information.
In this era of the Corona Virus Pandemic, information about COVID-19 has been spreading faster than the actual virus, and while there has been no shortage of misinformation, media, both online and offline, have provided a good tool to keep the public informed. Many of the stories shared have been both helpful and informative but some have driven fear.
World Health Organization has dubbed the new corona virus “a massive ‘infodemic,’” meaning there is an overabundance of information – some accurate, some false- which makes it hard for people to get accurate and reliable information when they need it. This has actually set the corona virus apart from previous outbreaks like the SARS, MERS, and Zika. The previous pandemic caused global panic but the COVID-19 has been especially amplified by social media.
People tend to share fake news knowingly and sometimes unknowingly. And especially now, a lot of information is available to us and we might not always counter-check to know if it is true or false. The government of Kenya actually warns against the spread of fake news as it affects people negatively. We are therefore urged before we share information online or offline, to make sure it is true information. Some people are very sensitive to certain information and whatever you might be telling them could affect them negatively.
Apart from fake news, another issue Kenyans face in the quest to inform and express themselves is the worry of violation of digital rights through surveillance technologies. The government is getting more and more power to survey and monitor Kenyans. And these technologies have an effect on freedom of expression as every move you make online is being followed. It somewhat gags individuals on how much they can say online or even question governance. It is fundamentally important for our digital rights to be protected as the world is almost fully integrating into the online world. We also need to get more organizations working in the area of protection of freedom of expression and digital rights. I know the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) has challenged 26 sections of the computer misuse and cybercrime law that in their opinion, threaten the freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of the media, freedom and security of the person, right to privacy, right to property and the right to a fair hearing. So, until this is sorted out, we’re likely to continue seeing a lot of senseless arrests.
Kenya has for decades performed better than its East African counterparts when it comes to media freedoms but has unfortunately seen a slow erosion of media freedoms globally in recent years. In 2020, Kenya ranked 103 in World Press Freedom Index dropping 3 positions from 2019. The drop in media freedom has been brought by the media routinely being subjected to physical assaults by security officers and public especially during elections, as well as threats and intimidation by politicians, confiscation of equipment and censorship of journalists’ content. As Kenyans, we are allowed to speak out against such impunity and condemn such acts.
The government should allow the media to do its job in a conducive working environment that respects privacy, media freedoms and digital rights. Media as well have a responsibility to fact-check and verify any piece of news before being dispensed to the public. Until this balance is achieved, the push and pull between the media and government agencies including other private players will always be there.