Raila’s speech at annual Journalism Excellence Award that left journalists dumbfounded 

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Former Prime Minister of Kenya Raila Odinga at the annual Journalism Excellence Award 2019.

“I am honoured to join you at this event where we take stock of the state of our media and reward excellence in journalism. I am equally happy to meet so many friends from this profession in this congregation.

Media Accountability and Good governance, which am informed is the theme for this year, makes for an interesting subject at a very interesting time for our country. These two are at war as we speak.

There is a quiet transition taking place in our country. Many are yet to come to accept or terms with it. It is one of the interesting things happening in our country that Kenyans are counting on the media to capture and explain, accurately and accountably. We are also in the middle of a tug of war on corruption and envisaged constitutional reforms.

We have a corruption war in which suspects have tried to control and shape the narrative and even provide some kind of live feed. Their narrative is that the war is a witch hunt. In an atmosphere that is increasingly getting too charged and too emotional too early, we have seen a war being waged on the reputations of journalists and entire media houses.

So, despite the general calm, we are actually in the middle of a toxic engagement that can be confused and confusing.

I want to begin therefore by acknowledging our media for the courage to steer the conversation back to what really matters. We have seen the media do some exemplary reporting particularly on the emotive subjects of corruption and governance.

Where we have been baited to discuss witch hunt or no witch hunt, the media have pushed back and refocused the debate to the issue of whether we have corruption or not in the first place and whether there is abuse of power and office in this country or not. It is a commendable effort that we have to acknowledge. That did not begin today though.
Over the decades, our media has distinguished itself through bold coverage of issues ranging from corruption to governance to politics and human rights.

That bold exposition has triggered debate that made Kenyans participate actively in the affairs of their country and prevented us from sliding to the abyss like many others in Africa.
You have sustained the crusading tradition that helped this country overcome the single party era and also made us realize a new constitution.

We have been through Goldenberg, Saba Saba riots, the Anglo Leasing and now the dams scandal to mention a few of the mega corruptions that the media have boldly shaped conversation on. It is a glorious tradition that you must continue and safeguard against those who want to trash and trample on it.

Like everywhere else, the media in Kenya are far from perfect. They make big mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes seem deliberate or sponsored to use a Kenyan word while others look like normal human error. Whatever the case, any mistake by the media, no matter the cause, often has grave ramifications. I therefore want to encourage you to always realize that as journalists, you are writers of the early drafts of history.

Historians, biographers and future politicians and other leaders in all fields will draw heavily from the early drafts that you write today.
It is a heavy responsibility you must bear with extreme care, without emotions or feelings.

Like every other public figure, I have occasionally felt maligned and misunderstood by the media. But I reject the attempt to generalize that into some kind of vendetta and a permanent war against the journalists. I remain opposed to any kind of threats to or any organized campaign against the credibility of the media or individual journalists. But let us face it. I know that our media feel embattled right now because of the atmosphere of mistrust that continues to be created in the country by a section of the electorate and the political leadership. You need to know that just as a section of leaders seek to turn journalists into demons and enemies of the nation, an equally significant section of the political class, those who have walked the full journey that this country has had to travel and who know the role the media have played in that path to where we are today, still believe that majority of journalists do noble and necessary work and we will stand with you.

We recognize that you preserve our imperfect democracy and protect the rights of our citizens. We recognize that our citizens depend on you to separate lies from the truth at a time a tide of misinformation is passing as Breaking News.

The media cannot afford to be caged. You cannot afford to be cornered. You cannot afford to surrender. From history, we know that those who would destroy democracy begin by destroying the media.

We know from history that insecure leaders with skeletons to hide crave adulation and unquestioning praise by the media. We know that such a war is underway in our country.

As a country, we must stand against organized movement to discredit mainstream journalism.
We lose every time we allow politicians to brand everything that appears in mainstream media as Fake News or Opposition politics when it does not favour them. Such threats create not only a threatening atmosphere for the media but also confusion in the country.
Discrediting the media makes it difficult for citizens to be alert and informed.

It makes it difficult for citizens to tell what really is going on and to pay attention to the debates taking place. It also makes it harder for the media to get the public to pay attention to the important information that it has, be it on corruption, governance or even terrorism.

It may be a strategy in our unending politicking, to make it difficult for people to tell the truth from the lies, but it needs to be stopped.

In this kind of environment, the media will have to work harder and build trust. They will need to do more and ensure they show us the documents and sources they are using for the stories when need be. They have to take extra care and ensure that they get the story right before running it.

For journalists to live to up to this calling, they need personal inner conviction. But that is not enough. They need support of their employers.
I believe that as part of the effort to cushion our media and help them cushion our democracy, media houses must invest in their journalists. Journalists need freedom, they need safety, they need good pay, they need clear career progression path, they need job security and they need a sound working environment.

To get credible stories that get to the bottom of the issues that matter to our country and that shape government policy, journalists need to be given time, freedom and resources.

We will not get to the bottom of the corruption and governance challenges plaguing this country when media owners align themselves with suspects and tell journalists to drop that story or when the reporters are denied the money and related resources to follow corruption stories to logical conclusion.
And when journalists following up critical stories report threats to their lives, media houses should take up such reports seriously and work with the State to ensure the corrupt do not use threats to silence the media.

Let me say this again as I conclude.

To win the war on corruption, to re-engineer our governance systems and align them to our changing needs, we need the truth to win over propaganda and lies. It is the only way to stop misinformation from shaping public opinion. Kenyans are counting on journalists to seek and lay out the truth. You have done well so far. I challenge you to do even more and better. Thank you.”

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