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A free press is more important in Kenya today than ever before

Friday March 18 2016

His Highness the Aga Khan (centre) and Nation Media Group (NMG) chairman Wilfred Kiboro (right) unveil a plaque during the official launch of NMG's new press along Mombasa road on March 17, 2016. Our additional central goal at the time of our founding was to create a news medium that would be truly independent - a place where the public could find a voice it could trust, an objective and thoughtful voice, a voice that would tell people what the facts are - as reliably as possible. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE |

His Highness the Aga Khan (centre) and Nation Media Group (NMG) chairman Wilfred Kiboro (right) unveil a plaque during the official launch of NMG's new press along Mombasa road on March 17, 2016. Our additional central goal at the time of our founding was to create a news medium that would be truly independent - a place where the public could find a voice it could trust, an objective and thoughtful voice, a voice that would tell people what the facts are - as reliably as possible. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

This is a great day for the Nation Media Group - and for the media community in Kenya - as we take a major step forward in our efforts to serve this country - and this region - ever more effectively.

What does a new printing press mean? Several things. It means more attractive newspapers. It means faster printing and earlier delivery.

It means fewer delays and quicker responses when breaking news develops. It means better quality for our advertisers - more colour, for example, for readers and advertisers alike.

And its construction has also meant more investment in the local economy.

At a moment like this, I find myself thinking back to the days when we first launched the Nation. That was more than half a century ago.

It is hard to believe, sometimes, that it has been that long.

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And, frankly, it is even harder to believe that so much time has passed since my childhood days in Kenya - and my continuing early visits to this country.

Over that time, as you know, our development network has built a range of activities here - in education, healthcare, commerce, tourism, finance and other fields - that we hoped would help to improve the quality of life for the people of this country and this region.

Over those many years, a great deal has changed, of course. And the change has been particularly striking for the Nation Media Group.

We have expanded by launching new newspapers - like The EastAfrican and the Business Daily - by moving into the television and radio worlds, and by expanding into other countries in East Africa.

And we have also moved decisively into online, computerised distribution of news and information.

TECHNOLOGICAL MARVEL

Our celebration today marks one other important transformation. We hear a lot about technological marvels these days.

And the one we often hear the most about is how we can serve readers through their computer screens and mobile phones. But that is not the full modernisation story.

The new press we commission today is also a technological marvel.

What it symbolises is our determination to use the very best technology we can find in any part of the world to do a better job for our customers - including the customers we serve on paper - and through the printed word.

When I think back to the founding of the Nation - and when I reflect on how much has changed - and how far we have come - I think, especially, about the hopes and dreams with which we launched this company.

Our goal then was to create a news medium that belonged to the whole of the nation of Kenya - and that, of course, is why we chose our company name.

That dream moved ahead in a big way when we took the company to the public shareholding market so that today a majority of Nation shares are owned by the general public of Kenya.

Our additional central goal at the time of our founding was to create a news medium that would be truly independent - a place where the public could find a voice it could trust, an objective and thoughtful voice, a voice that would tell people what the facts are - as reliably as possible.

Our goal was not to tell people what to think, but to give them reliable information so that they could think, more clearly, for themselves.

EDITORIAL GUIDELINES

To help us move down that challenging road we also created a formal set of editorial guidelines.

These guidelines emerged as a great deal of discussion and debate took place internally and externally, and they were then endorsed at a meeting of our public shareholders.

These guidelines represent a set of ethical and procedural standards, our honour code as independent journalists. Adhering to them is something we think of as a moral obligation.

We continue to think and talk a great deal about those editorial guidelines.

We had a major meeting on Wednesday where we talked again, with our editors and our board of directors, about how we could implement those standards most effectively.

We all concluded that the role of a truly independent media house is more important now than ever - in Africa and all around the world.

And we also acknowledged that fulfilling that independent role may be more difficult (now) than ever before.

All over the world, the number of media voices is exploding - websites, bloggers, and social media voices multiply every day.

The result is often a wild mix of messages - good information and bad information, superficial impressions, fleeting images, and a good deal of confusion and conflict.

And this is true all over the world. On top of that, this is also a time when public emotions and political sentiments are intensifying and even polarising - again, all over the world.

The result, some people say, is that we live in a “post-fact” society. Yes, a post-fact society. It is not just that everyone feels entitled to his or her own opinion - that is a good thing.

But the problem comes when people feel they are entitled to their own facts.

What is true, too often, can then depend not on what actually happened, but on whose side you are.

Our search for the truth can then become less important than our allegiance to a cause - an ideology, for example, or a political party, or a tribal or religious identity, or a pro-government or opposition outlook.

And so publics - all over the world - can begin to fragment and societies can drift into deadlock.

INFORMATION TO THE PUBLIC

In such a world, it is absolutely critical - more than ever - that the public should have somewhere to turn for reliable, balanced, objective and accurate information - as best as it can be discovered.

No one, including the Nation Media Group, will ever be able to do that perfectly. But it is critically important that all of us should try.

That may sound idealistic, but that is the reason that I founded the Nation a half-century ago.

That is also why we have also recently started a new Graduate School of Media and Communication here in Nairobi as part of the Aga Khan University.

And it is why I wanted to be here today, to share in another milestone moment for the Nation Media Group.

As we often do at milestone events - in our personal lives as well as our institutional lives - we think today about our dreams of the past and our hopes for the future.

Milestone moments are times for celebration, and they are also times for rededication.

As we commission this new press today, we are also rededicating ourselves to the ideals which gave birth to this company almost six decades ago, and that have since propelled it forward ever since.

This speech was given by The Aga Khan at the commissioning of Nation’s new printing press on Thursday.

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