How Does Freedom of the Press Affect Malaria?

the-press-kisumu-2.JPGThe BBC has reported that, “The Kenya Communications Amendment Bill, which was passed by parliament, gives the state power to raid media houses and control broadcast content,” and at the same time, “Information Minister Samuel Poghisio insists that the government is committed to press freedom.”

Internally, the passage of the bill has resulted in protests and arrests. Initial reports said 23 had been arrested. Later reports in the Nation raised the number to 70. The police were worried that defense of basic freedoms might mar Independence Day celebrations.  The Nation noted that this move marked “45 years of freedom, one giant leap of censorship.”  The oposition Orange Democratic Movement indicated that it would go to court is the President signed the Bill.

It did not take long for the police to take the intent of the new bill seriously. People protesting current economic conditions during the Independence day celebrations were dispersed. Then “Police have turned their heat on journalists after they dispersed protesters at Ufungamano House in Nairobi. On Sunday, they unleashed police dogs and lobbed teargas canisters at the battery of journalists who were recording their showdown with the protesters. Journalists had no option but to film the advancing police officers from the safety of their vehicles.”

Externally AFP reports that, “The United States on Saturday voiced concern over a media bill which was recently adopted by Kenya‘s parliament and curbs freedom of the press. The United States is very concerned about recent actions which potentially threaten freedom of the media in Kenya,” the US embassy said in a statement.” Reporters without Borders has asked the Kenyan President not to sign the bill.

What does all this mean for malaria?  The new bill reflects a government sensitivity to criticism. According to the BBC, “the new bill gives the minister for internal security the power to raid a media house, search its premises, dismantle broadcast equipment and take a station off air.”  What if the press is critical of the way the government handles major donor funding for malaria.  A letter to the Nation looks at the issues at stake.

Politics, bad governance, impunity and the Government’s reluctance to fight corruption are working against Kenyans. Sometime back, the Global Fund slashed its contribution to the fight against HIV/Aids and other parasitic infections in Kenya, citing misappropriation and mismanagement of funds for its action. Kenya has failed for the fourth consecutive year to qualify for the Millennium Challenge Assistance from the US aid development programme. Of the three East African countries only Tanzania made it to the finish line.

Freedom to monitor malaria program performance and undertake advocacy to ensure proper implementation by civil society and the press is essential for accountability and success.

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