“We do not want brown envelopes containing monies intended to influence what stories we tell, how we tell them and how we present issues affecting the lives of those whose experiences we must feature”.
This is what a number of journalists based in four counties in Kenya recently told Development Through Media (DTM) and Reportrar Utan Granser, the Swedish Chapter of Reporters Without Boarders (RWB).
It is indeed the case that the “brown envelope” phenomenon is rampant in the Kenyan media scene and hence the need for more efforts to stem the vice so that media practitioners can effectively serve their roles as the “peoples’ watchdogs”. This is what inspired the DTM and RWB into partnership that is currently implementing a pilot project aimed at developing the capacities of young county-based media practitioners/journalists on effective reporting on development issues of gender, human rights, environment, democracy and governance. During the initial research phase conducted a year earlier, efforts were made to work within the concept of media and civil society partnership as conceptualised by DTM way back in 2001.
The research enabled consultations with various entities on how to strengthen media and civil society collaboration to support the implementation of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 (CoK, 2010). The focus of these consultations was on how to better serve marginalised groups within the framework of devolution. Consultations were held with civil society, county constituents and journalists for the purposes of collating views on the current situation of media in Kenya.
It was confirmed that the political class owned many of the media establishments across various platforms, from print, to FM radio and TV stations, and that this negatively influenced the overall media environment. This is because the political class controlled editorial processes including the content developed by media practitioners. It was however also confirmed that media practitioners are unhappy about this situation and wanted out. So this project aims to seek new ways of improving the situation by facilitating a deliberate shift in how media focuses and engages with the Kenyan people.
The DTM and RWB partnership is committed to contributing to positive changes in media engagements so as to better promote freedom of expression among socially and economically marginalized groups, and create tools of communication through the collaborative efforts of local, national and international media and civil society entities. Finally, it also aims to increase the knowledge on the challenges faced by journalists and human rights activists in performing their duties in the area of reporting on human rights and sensitive issues.
The project therefore aims to create a new generation of media practitioners who undertake in-depth reporting on various thematic areas such gender, democracy and governance, climate change and environment and reporting on them from a rights-based approach. Most importantly, they will report from a bottom-up approach, the point of view of ordinary people directly affected by the issues under investigation.
Pursuit of story
The two-year project eventually rolled out in early 2014 and has since completed Workshop 1, which took place in November of that year, focusing on basic training in in-depth-journalism. 8 practicing journalists in the four pilot counties of Nairobi, Nakuru, Uasin Gisu and Kisumu and two from DTM attended the five-day training. Kenyan and Swedish experts took participants through sessions on the role of the media in a democratic society, as a watchdog and at the service of the citizens. Sessions also included in-depth journalism, media ethics and integrity, digital and personal security. Experience-sharing sessions provided platforms for appreciating Swedish best practices that have placed Sweden amongst the most free and democratic societies with the hope that this might inspire the Kenyan participants to push for the same through improved media engagements.
Training Workshop 1 therefore aimed to introduce a new approach to the “pursuit of story” where the trained journalists will develop works that highlight the concerns of marginalized groups in the rural areas from the perspectives of the marginalised groups themselves. This will ensure that their roles and voices in the democratization process are strengthened so that they can participate more effectively in constitutional implementation and devolution processes.