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Kenyan Journalists Challenged to Amplify Voice of Church on Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Journalists in Kenya tend to sideline Church activities in their reporting, prioritizing politicians even during faith-based functions, a Catholic Bishop has observed and called on the members of the Press to amplify the voice of the Church, which he said has the interest of the people at heart.

In his address to journalists in the East African country on the World Press Freedom Day marked May 3, Bishop Dominic Kimengich of the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret faulted the members of the Press for focusing on politicians in events and ignoring the voice of the Church.

“We’d like to see more coverage of the Church activities in the country. We have seen many times when we have Church functions attended by politicians, the journalists tend to focus on politics and forget the message, which is coming from the Church,” Bishop Kimengich said in a Facebook address on Monday, May 3.

The Kenyan Bishop added, “Let us know very well that the Church is really above politics. The Church wants a very healthy society. Therefore, don’t just go for sensational stories or stories focusing on politicians. Go for the objective truth. Go for the facts.”

Bishop Kimengich expressed his appreciation for journalists’ “amazing job” in ensuring that the people’s right to information is granted.

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“In any society, especially where the press is not respected, there are usually people who want some information hidden and where information is hidden, it means that there is something going wrong,” he said, and called for the strengthening of the freedom of the press in the East African country.

Information on the UNESCO website indicates that the annual World Press Freedom Day celebrated globally on May 3 acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom.

It is also a day of reflection among media practitioners about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.

“World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story,” reads the information on the UNESCO website.

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This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme “Information as a Public Good” serves as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good, according to UNESCO.

It is also a call to strengthen journalism and to advance transparency and empowerment “while leaving no one behind,” UNESCO says.

Bishop Kimengich has, in his message on World Press Freedom Day, also called for the support and strengthening of the work of journalists who he says often “find themselves in very challenging and stressful situations.”

The Bishop of Kenya’s Eldoret Diocese says that information is for the good of the country, adding that people in a nation that have the right information are able to make sound decisions.

According to the Kenyan Bishop, the work of journalists is especially important as the country moves to general elections next year.

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He says, “The press and the journalists will play a very critical role of informing people about the politics of the day and also the politicians and what they stand for so that our people can choose the right people to represent them.”

He went on to laud journalists for a “fantastic job” in the coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If the facts about COVID-19 were not shared to create awareness, then people would perish for the lack of knowledge. You have done very well. You are the reason we are where we are as a nation because things could have really escalated and we’d have lost so many lives,” he said.

On what is expected of journalists as the country gears towards the general elections, the Bishop says, “You journalists, do your part. Report the facts as they are. Don’t be intimidated by anybody and don’t be bought by politicians because they sometimes use money so that they can have a story that favors them.”

He cautioned members of the press against accepting to be bribed by politicians to alter the truth, saying that in so doing, they will be betraying the ideals of the country.

“You as journalists are the ones to come up with facts and so what you say is what ends up shaping the public opinion,” Bishop Kimengich said, and added, “Report facts. Tell people what is happening. This time round, we want to elect very good leaders for our country.”

“We want to elect leaders who will develop this country; leaders who are ready to lead the people and not those who just go to leadership for their own selfish interests. I pray that you remain firm and strong for the good of our country,” the Bishop of Eldoret Diocese who doubles as the Apostolic Administrator of Kenya’s Lodwar Diocese says in his May 3 Facebook message.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the Executive Council of Union of the Catholic African Press (UCAP) has called for the protection of the freedom of the press across Africa.

“As we observe this important day in the lives of journalists across the world, I call upon each and every one of you to stand up and protect press freedom in your respective countries,” UCAP President, George Sunguh says in a statement shared with ACI Africa on May 3.

Mr. Sunguh observes that many countries have made significant gains in achieving Press Freedom since the UNESCO conference held in Windhoek, Namibia where the World Press Freedom Day was founded in 1991.

“It however, disheartening to note that some governments and undesirable elements, especially in the so called third world countries, are busy clawing back the gains made so far,” the Kenya-based UCAP President laments, and adds, “Others have totally refused to respect Press Freedom within their respective jurisdictions.”

He expresses regret that as the world observes the Press Freedom Day, reports still come up about journalists being killed in their line of their duty. Other journalists, he says, are being imprisoned, beaten up and harassed in all manner by those in authority.

The authorities, Mr. Sunguh explains, oppress the journalists “in full disregard to the important role journalists play in their lives.”

Quoting Pope Francis’ message,” the UCAP President says, “Freedom of the Press and of expression is an important indicator of the state of a country’s health.”

He hails the Ugandan authorities, which he says jailed seven soldiers who were found guilty after beating up journalists covering the Presidential elections.

“We encourage other governments to take appropriate measures against their wayward forces and even members of the public behaving in any manner likely to breach Freedom of the Press,” he says.

The part of the journalists, Sunguh says, is to promote truthful reporting and peace journalism “as encouraged by the Holy See.”

“Remember journalism is not a job, but a mission,” the UCAP official says in his message to journalists across the African continent.