By Abigail Arunga
The Africa Media Leaders Forum took place in Addis Ababa this year. It was supposed to be a forum for media leaders to have healthy conversations about the media houses or organizations they run or work for, and give these ‘policy formulators’ a chance to review their principles.
It was also supposed to give media a chance to ‘talk to the powers that be’ – i.e. the heads of government or governmental representatives present, to give them insight on what exactly the point of media (and in tandem, press freedom) is.
In attendance were several media heads from countries all over the continent (including our very own Linus Gitahi). Our President, Mr. Kenyatta, was supposed to give the keynote speech.
Reeyot Alemu is an Ethiopian journalist who is in jail, as we speak. She was thrown in for terrorist activities – which in Ethiopia, translates to writing things against the government.
And the Media Forum was held in her country.
According to the Africa Media Initiative, the folks behind the forum, the event was held here to be a symbol of the beginning of dialogue and to indicate solidarity as well as a willingness to have dialogue with the Ethiopian government.
The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, affirmed that freedom of the press is enshrined in the country’s constitution during his address at the Opening Ceremony.
Reeyot Alemu has tumours that need urgent medical attention.
If she is not set free, even for a visit to the doctor’s, she will die.
Our Deputy President was sent to give the keynote address instead of the President himself (and coincidentally, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia who was supposed to be present, backed out too. Perhaps not wanting to share the podium with just a deputy?).
He made a joke about everyone being taken to strange places on trumped up charges.
As I type, I am listening to our not-so-honourable National Assembly discussing the media bill.
It’s like there has to be something they are pushing that is ridiculous to make themselves feel relevant.
Forget the fact that many MPs seemingly have little understanding of the idiocy (and paradox) of a gagged media.
Forget the fact that everything they have done since swearing in is pretty much a joke (when I say everything, I mean the three major things: more salary, less media, and less marriage rights.
My question today is, why are we putting up with this?
This law is a bad idea for Kenya, for democracy and indeed, for civilization.
At the forum, there were a few journalists from Liberia.
They spoke about a journalist who was sentenced to 5,000 years in prison (because obviously, he will be able to serve it) and a whopping 1.5 million dollar fine for reporting government corruption.
The media in Liberia protested and shut down for a week.
The man was released.
The journalist telling this story said something very important.
He said, ‘We [the media] have the power.
We should use it.’
He’s right. Yes, they have the guns and the money, but we have the pen.
We should use our pens.
I am not willing to become another Reeyot Alemu. Are you?