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Editors call for review of media laws to improve press freedom

Thursday June 11 2020
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Kenya Editors' Guild President Churchill Otieno. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By SARAH NANJALA

Media guilds in Eastern Africa have called on their respective governments to review and update media laws in advocating for press freedom and sustainability measures amid the ongoing global pandemic.

Following deliberations in a series of webinars, the Eastern Africa Editors Forum raised concern over the increasing level of threat that the coronavirus pandemic is having on the survival of the media, further stating that the livelihoods of journalists are also under threat.

In a statement Wednesday, the editors, led by guild chairs Churchill Otieno (Kenya), Daniel Kalinaki (Uganda), Deodatus Balile (Tanzania) and Bruh Mengistu Yihunbelay (Ethiopia), acknowledged that the current political, social and economic challenges in the region have affected media performance and its sustainability.

This has forced some media houses over the past two months to close shop while others have scaled down operations through workforce reduction and reduced salaries as the effects of the pandemic take toll on the industry.

In addition, the editors noted that there has been reduced investment particularly in investigative journalism as media houses seek to minimise costs, further affecting media performance.

“We are alarmed that the media is fighting to perform its obligation of providing information critical to the well-being of society, promoting democracy and associated tenets like accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs, holding leaders to account, checking cases of corruption, poor or bad governance as well as human rights abuses,” the statement in part read.

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Concerns of media freedom were also raised, with the Guild making observations over the decreasing levels of press freedom in some countries in Eastern Africa, which they further attribute to both political and economic pressures.

This observation comes after several calls by the Media Council of Kenya against press intimidation particularly by the police. It also further reinforces a recent report by the International Peace Institute that showed the worsening state of press freedom around the world with the spread of the coronavirus.

According to the report, the spread of the pandemic has led to media professionals experiencing increased incidences of arrests, physical attacks and fake news, with Africa being among the leading regions globally in the regression of press freedom.

The editors are now calling upon respective governments to not only promote fundamental rights of the media, but also update media laws to meet international standards.

In addition, the editors are also seeking for funds to support investigative journalism in the region, stating that it would be critical to the advancement of the role of the media and journalism to check governments and hold leaders to account.

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