The Nation Media Group (NMG) began celebrations to mark 50 years with a firm commitment to remain focused on independent news coverage.
The group’s founder, His Highness the Aga Khan, told the Pan African Media Conference in Nairobi on Thursday that he started off in 1960 with the belief that newly-independent African nations would thrive well where there was an independent media. He holds the same belief for the future.
“News media that sought independence, generally speaking, had a difficult life,” said the Aga Khan.
“One of them was the now defunct British newspaper, the News Chronicle, edited by the late Michael Curtis who later played such a central role in the Nation story. With him, we believed that the tradition of non-aligned newspapers was the most appropriate for Africa. We still believe that today.”
No easy task
He sought to explain to those present—including Presidents Mwai Kibaki (Kenya), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and a host of delegates—the difficulty of preserving independence as he promised to stay the path.
“It has not always been easy to explain this role — to share our understanding that independence from parties, or interest groups or governments should not and does not mean some sort of reflexive opposition to them. Not having a special agenda does not imply some counter-agenda. Being independent is not the same as being oppositional,” he said.
“Truly independent media cannot be predictably partisan, narrowly politicised, nor superficially personalised. Journalistic shortcomings cannot be disguised behind political or partisan agendas. So, the idea of ‘best practice’ became a second NMG goal: to try to identify, educate and harness the best media talent we could find.”
The Aga Khan said media freedom is increasingly under threat globally.
“For every nation that moves forward in terms of press freedom, two nations are said to be slipping backward,” he said, adding: “But let me sound a word of caution. Freedom, in any area of human activity does not mean the moral licence to abuse that freedom.”
President Kibaki said Kenya was committed to media freedom and cited the increased outlets established in the last seven years.
Journalism school coming
A graduate school of media studies will be established to better train journalists across East Africa, His Highness the Aga Khan said.
The school, to be built in the next year, will help improve the quality of journalism, he said at the ongoing Pan African Media conference in Nairobi.
“I am pleased to tell you that the Aga Khan University is planning to establish a new Graduate School of Media and Communications based in East Africa and dedicated to advancing the excellence of media performance and strengthening of ethical media practices throughout the developing world. The school will be driven, above all, by an absolute commitment to quality,” he said.
“In a world of growing complexity, journalists must increasingly understand the substantive, sophisticated dimensions of the fields on which they report — from medical and environmental sciences, to economic and financial disciplines, to legal and constitutional matters. And a new generation of African media entrepreneurs could well be born from programmes which blend economic and media disciplines,” he said.
The conference had lively debates, with panels comprising top political and media personalities, discussing a range of topics.