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Media Freedom Is The Cornerstone Of Democracy

The importance of the media freedom.

BY Beryl Karimi-La Patrona

Mar 07, 2023, 03:39 PM

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Kenya was under one-party rule from 1969 until 1991. During this period, the government restricted media freedom in deeply brutalizing ways that were more severe during the dictatorial regime of the late former President Moi who ruled for 22 years.

In 1982, the government passed a constitutional amendment that allowed for detention without trial and restricted freedom of speech and the press. This amendment gave the government the power to shut down any publication considered a threat to national security or that was critical of the government.

Journalists were often harassed, intimidated, and arrested for their reporting during this period, and many went into exile fearing for their lives. 

The ruling party at the time, Kenya African National Union (KANU), used that amendment to silence dissent and quash any form of opposition towards its rule. The government used the state-run Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) and the government-controlled newspaper to disseminate its propaganda and to attack the opposition. 

With the reintroduction of multi-party politics in 1991, media freedom began to improve as independent media houses were allowed to operate more freely and journalists were able to report more truthfully on the government. 

Today, we have a healthier environment for the media and journalists but that freedom is under threat again due to a careless tweet written by Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, where he asked the President of Kenya William Ruto to crash the media.
Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has uttered similar sentiments and that is quite a dangerous slope to tread on.

In 2017, the former president and his deputy, who happens to be the current President of Kenya, chose to shut down TV broadcasts for several days after they aired the mock swearing-in of the opposition leader, Raila Odinga. 

The silence of the president during the current attack on the media does not inspire confidence because we have been here before as a nation even with him at the helm of power and we can't help but wonder if we are being taken back to the KANU days.

We are a democracy and democracy cannot exist where media freedom is stifled. As a country, we need to be reminded of the importance of media freedom so here are four reasons that demonstrate why media freedom is essential for a healthy democracy.

Holding Politicians And Those In Power Accountable.

We live in a very corrupt country and the few times when we see unscrupulous individuals being held accountable is when investigative journalists do the work of digging into the dirt and bringing it into the light.

Without press freedom, such levels of accountability would not exist. We would be left in a country that does not question anyone and a powerful elite that does whatever they want because they remain unchecked. 

Setting Agenda And Encouraging Public Discourse.

The fourth estate is responsible for shaping public discourse in democratic societies. They bring things to light, call experts, question things, and give the electorate a chance to express their public opinions.

Without media freedom, all that is replaced by silence. All public debate is squashed and the only voices that remain are those in power.

Democracy does not run like that. It grants each one of us the freedom of expression and stifling the media would be stifling the voice of each and every one of us.

Safeguarding Human Rights.

Media freedom allows the media to report on sensitive issues such as police brutality, extra-judicial killings, and arrests of human rights activists who keep the government, which doesn't want to be checked, on its toes.

Being a whistleblower allows each one of us to call out the government for its impunity when it abuses its power and that is why we must guard the freedom of the media ferociously.

We cannot afford to be in a country where the police kill without being held accountable, or where activists disappear without any trace. 

Promoting Transparency

The media played a key role in the just concluded Nigerian presidential election and ours last year. The results were streamed live providing citizens with timely information about what was going on.

A free press is what keeps us informed of government policies, their actions, and their decision-making process. To take away that freedom is to purposely keep us in the dark, and that is a dangerous thing that should not be allowed to take root.

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