The Media Sector Response Team (MESERT), established by various media stakeholders on March 18, 2020in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, has been monitoring and coordinating safety responses for journalists during this challenging.
MESERT is made up of the following key media stakeholders: Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA), Media Council of Kenya (MCK), Association of Freelance Journalists (AFJ), Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK), Digital Broadcasters Association (DBA), IREX Kenya, Kenya Editors’ Guild (KEG) and Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ).
From the outset, MESERT made a number of recommendations to the office of the government spokesperson concerning media safety and practice in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
The national government was urged to facilitate provision of live feeds to national and community media houses for public announcement, provide protective gear and other logistical supported for journalists. The national government and Ministry of Health were urged to facilitate provision of official content on COVID-19 to media houses beyond advertising messages.
In light of the risks brought about by COVID-19, MESERT has made practical recommendations for media coverage. They include doing a risk analysis before covering COVID-19 stories, disinfecting equipment such as microphones and cameras before and after use, canceling programs that require studio guests and audience presence and sending lean teams during live press conferences. Journalists have also been advised to seek assistance if they detect and trauma symptoms related to COVID-19.
During this year’s World Press Freedom Day marked in May 3, 2020, under the theme: ‘Journalism Without Fear or Favour’, media stakeholders focused on the pandemic through a series of activities and press statements.
On May 4, 2020, members of MESERT, along with other media stakeholders including UNESCO, participated in a webinar which attracted over 200 participants to mark the World Press Freedom Day. The discussions focused on, among others, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected journalists.
The participants reflected on the problems faced by the media sector since the pandemic emerged and how it had hit Kenya, what interventions had been made by various actors and other suggestions and action plans were proposed to address the challenges.
According to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index 2020, Kenya ranked number 103 out of 180 which is a drop from number 96 in 2019. Norway is number 1 and North Korea is number 180 in this Index.
A press statement issued by media stakeholders on the day highlighted cases of press freedom violations, poor working conditions, nonpayment of salaries and wages, mass sackings and harassment of journalists, which had escalated in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement indicated that the Media Council of Kenya had, since January, documented 34 cases of harassment of journalists, most of them affecting journalists who were on duty during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was noted that cases of police harassment, intimidation, assault, and denial of access to information had increased. It was pointed out that some media managers were taking advantage of the pandemic to mishandle journalists and infringe their rights.
The statement said media stakeholders were concerned with rising cases of police brutality towards journalists and other forms of press freedom violations by the police and other actors, and had petitioned the Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai and the Director of Public Prosecutions Mr. Noordin Haji.
The stakeholders called on the government and development partners to consider providing a stimulus package in a bid to secure jobs for journalists as part of the frontline workers in the efforts to deal with the pandemic.
In addition, journalists and media houses were called to remain ethical and accountable while reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly by being factual to help debunking fake news and misinformation that was noted to be on the rise.