The High Commission of Canada in partnership with the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) held an event to celebrate World Press Freedom Day 2018 in Kenya with a focus on online journalists (bloggers and influencers).

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1993 as a day to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. It is celebrated on the 3rd of May.

In 2018, the global theme is ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law’, and covers issues of media and the transparency of the political process, the independence and media literacy of the judicial system, and the accountability of state institutions towards the public. The Day examines contemporary challenges of ensuring press freedom online.

The session was a moderated panel of experts discussing topics around this year’s theme. The experts are lawyers, media rights advocates, freedom of expression advocates, and online journalists

Rick, a representative from the Canadian Embassy, in the opening remarks, said, “Media and bloggers represent free speech globally.” He also added “Media rights and freedom of expression are human rights and they should be protected at all costs. A safe and responsible internet should be promoted both in Kenya and the region. Journalists should feel safe to create content anywhere, even on the internet.”

The first session discussed topics on sexual and gender-based harassment in media, challenges of covering elections and electoral campaigns in Kenya and promoting the safety of online journalists and countering threats against them. The panelists were George Githinji, a blogger at epickenyan.com, Mwende Ngao, a blogger at mwendengao.com and zedamagazine.com and Patrick Gathara an award-winning blogger at gathara.blogspot.com, Cartoonist and Curator at theelephant.info.

Mwende Ngao on sexual and gender-based harassment said, “Kenyan women on Twitter have been able to have a strong and powerful voice in this online space.” Patrick Gathara added said “Some people try to diminish women’s opinions online just because they are women. It’s terrible and it needs to stop.”

Mr Gathara pointed out “the definition of journalism has been used to silence those looking to say something, to determine who can and who cannot speak.” Githinji added, “The fear of whatever you put online placing you at risk needs to cut across bloggers and journalists who need to work together to protect each other.”

The second session discussed the political threats to media and freedom of expression, the role of the judiciary in enhancing freedom of expression in Kenya and fake news and new threats to journalism. The panelists were Mugambi Laibuta, Demas Kiprono and Mercy Mutemi, all Advocates of the High Court of Kenya and Kennedy Kachwanya, the Chairman at Bloggers Association of Kenya.

Mr Mugambi on political threats to media and freedom of expression said, “The right to freedom of expression is fundamental to the society.” Demas Kiprono added, “Freedom of expression is often a dangerous thing in a country where the political class does not want the truth getting out. The Computer and Cybercrimes Bill of Kenya is similar to that of Tanzania which was passed 2 years ago. The people going to jail are the bloggers.” Mercy Mutemi in her closing remarks adviced, “Don’t be afraid to say what you need to say online even if it’s unpopular. Exercise your freedom online.”