Monday, 26 September 2011

Wangari Maathai: Africa's first woman Nobel Peace Prize winner

She won the Nobel Peace prize in 2004 at the age of 64. A long time taken to be recognised for her deeds in making the world a better place to live.  She was revered by all who met her. She had a lot to say and wasn't afraid to say it.

Today, September 26, 2011, everyone woke to the shocking news of her demise now at 71 from 1940 when she breathed mother earth's beauty and for which she always lived to protect.

She met dignitaries from all over the world and in turn, introduced them to her calling...her people...her neighbors and friends that were:

"Today, Wangari Maathai, you are here in the Oslo Town Hall to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004. We share your joy with you and with your closest relatives and friends who are gathered here. We are also pleased to see so many Kenyans and other Africans in the Town Hall. We have all come together here to pay you our tribute.

Dear mama Wangari Maathai,
You have shown what it means to be a true African mother and a true African woman. Kenya admires you! Africa admires you! The world admires you! May your unceasing fight for the right always remain a source of inspiration for mankind.

I think the announcement has already changed your life. Your name will figure prominently in the history of the Peace Prize, together with the other African Peace Prize Laureates: Albert Lutuli, Anwar Sadat, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Fredrik Willem de Klerk and Kofi Annan. We hope the Peace Prize may be an inspiration for positive change in your beloved Kenya, in Africa, and in the many countries in the world that need to hear your voice. Congratulations on the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004.

You are the first woman from Africa to be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize. You will also be the first African from the vast region between South Africa and Egypt to receive the prize. You stand as an example and a source of inspiration to everyone in Africa who is fighting for sustainable development, democracy and peace. You are an outstanding role model for all women in Africa and the rest of the world. You bravely opposed the oppressive regime in Kenya. Your unique modes of action put the spotlight on political oppression both nationally and internationally,"  said The Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee – Ole Danbolt Mjøs (Oslo, December 10, 2004).

Kofi Annan, "Wangari Maathai will be remembered as a committed champion of the environment, sustainable development, women's rights, and democracy. Her contribution to all these causes will forever be celebrated and honoured. Wangari was a courageous leader. Her energy and life-long dedication to improve the lives and livelihoods of people will continue to inspire generations of young people around the world."

The Norwegian poet Halldis Moren Vesaas  put it so beautifully in her poem "The woman is planting":

The woman is planting a tree in the world.
On her knees, like someone in prayer,
Among the remains of the many trees
That the storm has broken down.
She must try again, perhaps one at last
Will be left to grow in peace.

And this is how Moren Vesaas ends the poem:

She sees the hands outspread on the earth
As if trying to impose her calm
On its threatening tremors. Oh earth, be still,
Be still, so my tree can grow.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, "Once again, our country has woken up today to the sad news of the passing on of a hero of great standing, Prof Wangari Maathai.

Maathai’s death is one of such happenings that leaves a nation with little to say; that strikes at the core of our nation’s heart.

Prof Maathai has passed on just when the causes she long fought for were just beginning to get the attention they deserved as threats to the survival of the human race and that of our planet.

In Kenya, we have lost her at a time we needed real champions for the cause of environment that she long symbolised. We have lost Maathai when we needed champions for better housing and sanitation to replace our slums. 

We all knew her as a voice of reason, a lady who stood above our artificial divisions of race, tribe and region and championed the cause of humanity.

While we all struggle to come to terms with this most untimely tragedy for our nation, Maathai’s death should inspire us to struggle to do good and champion the human cause while we live.

We have many things to do, and one of those things is to complete our, my destiny, which is to teach others about the power of faith, courage, and determination.

President Mwai Kibaki mourns, " It is with a deep sense of sadness and sorrow that I learnt of the death of Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai. On behalf of the government and people of Kenya and on my own behalf I send you this message of sympathy, at this time when we mourn a global icon who has left an indelible mark in the world of environmental conservation.

With the passing on of Professor Maathai, the country and the world has not only lost a renowned environmentalist and but also a great human rights crusader. Indeed in 2004, the late Professor was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her contribution in environmental conservation, good governance, human rights and democracy.

As part of her environmental conservation efforts, the late Professor Maathai started the Green Belt Movement, an NGO that is involved in reforestation programmes throughout the country.
Professor Maathai was also a hardworking person who always had time for the less privileged in the country. In this regard, the late Nobel Laureate was at the forefront in advocating for women empowerment, especially at the grassroots level.

In politics, the late Professor Maathai will be remembered for the role she played in agitating for political reforms that paved the way for the country’s second liberation. In her quest to serve Kenyans in different spheres, the late Professor Maathai vied and became the Member of Parliament for Tetu and an Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

“Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what I have always tried to do.” she Said.
The power of love for ourselves and for others and how we can make a difference in this world if we just only take a little time from our busy lives.

Prof Wangari Maathai (Nobel Laureate) – Her one regret, motherhood and why she never remarried

I wanted to enclose a few of my favorite sayings from Prof Wangari Maathai...who was big on family and making the world a better place starting from the home. 

On the occasion of the mini-Beijing Women’s Conference, Nairobi, 1995

“In the world there is a new collective force of people mobilising around the issue of peace but linking it to the need to protect the environment. But we must assert our collective vision and responsibility to shape that peace not only for our country but also for the whole of Africa.”

 On receiving the UN Africa Prize for Leadership, 1991
“It is not as if leaders do not understand the impact of the unjust political and economic systems which are promoting environmental degradation and promoting a non-sustainable development model. When will such business be considered unacceptable in the world community?…Africa’s challenges are being tackled at different levels, and some successes have been recorded. But not fast enough. The concepts of sustainable development, appropriate development models, and participatory development are not foreign. We are aware that our children and the future generations have a right to a world which will also need energy, should be free of pollution, should be rich with biological diversity and should have a climate which will sustain all forms of life.”

Africa is a paradox. It is one of the richest continents on the planet, endowed with oil, precious stones, forests, water, wildlife, soil, land, agricultural products, and millions of women and men. Yet most of Africa’s people remain impoverished. I continue to ask myself, “Why?”

One reason is that many Africans lack the knowledge, skills, tools, and the political will to create wealth from their resources. They are unable to add value to raw materials in order to sell processed goods in local and international markets and negotiate better prices and favorable trade rules. Another reason is that ordinary citizens suffer when debts are not cancelled, when financial assistance is not forthcoming, or when trade barriers are raised.

I have also seen the need for ordinary Africans to embrace a set of values, like service for the common good, and commitment, persistence, and patience until a goal is realized. We also need Africans who love Africa so much that they want to protect their countries – their land – from environmentally destructive processes. The transformation of grasslands into deserts due to deforestation, encroachment into forests for subsistence farming, overgrazing, and loss of biodiversity and soil threaten the entire continent.

Another value Africans must adopt is love and concern for young people. One of the most devastating experiences is to see youth wasting away because they are unemployed, even after they have completed secondary and tertiary education, or because their health has deteriorated. African governments should give priority to investments in technical education and HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care, and support programs.

Without skills, people find themselves locked out of productive, rewarding economic activities, leaving them unable to meet their needs for housing, healthcare and nutrition. They get trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and, sometimes, crime.

Africa needs to prepare for the opportunities and challenges to come by deliberately working for peace and security.
Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai speaks in Copenhagen in a December 2009 file photograph. Photograph: Casper Christoffersen/Scanpix/Reuters

When resources are scarce, or so degraded that they can no longer sustain livelihoods, or inequitably distributed, conflict invariably ensues. In Africa, we need to manage our resources sustainably, accountably, and responsibly. And we need to share those resources equitably.

Otherwise, we will continue to invest in wars and conflicts, or in fighting crime and domestic instability, rather than in promoting development and thereby eliminating poverty. African leaders should govern and serve for the benefit of the people, not themselves.

But perhaps the most unrecognized problem in Africa, especially at the grassroots level, is the disempowerment of ordinary people. This is one of the main reasons why so many people are unable to take advantage of the many opportunities available in Africa.

Africa’s people must be allowed to gain confidence, dignity, and a sense of self-worth. They must also be empowered with knowledge, skills, and tools to take action. This is why debt relief is so important. It provides governments additional resources to invest in initiatives that can empower their people.

"I will be a hummingbird" - Wangari Maathai

But much must still be accomplished, by Africans and with Africa’s many friends around the world. As in the Bible story, when Peter and John said to a beggar, rise up and walk,” Africans are called upon to walk away from ignorance, inertia, apathy, and fatalism. To walk towards economic and political freedom. To walk to an Africa free of poverty.

Maathai: World mourns passing of true 'African heroine'

Friday, 23 September 2011

Is leadership change within sight?

We need a resurgence of national values to give a long term solution to the breakdown of social order.
Many say that, “politicians are the greatest violators of human rights” they are falling back on national healing and reconciliation.

It is clear to me that urgent corrective measures are required to forestall any further deterioration and devastation. In my view, the breakdown of our social order is the result of many factors that include:
A winner takes all style of leadership that results in the people allied to the leader benefitting more than other people, hunger for power and money among politicians which makes them use any societal cleavages however, evil to mobilize support and a culture of impunity that is evidenced by failure t punish culprits for wrong doing.

A closer look at current events is that our leaders have failed to admit they are unable to provide for the most basic need, food. Blames and pointing of fingers over the food shortage while many famers cry foul as their produce cannot be bought!

In my opinion, we need to re-examine ourselves. We have paid dearly.

Nevertheless let’s take a break, as many have said; can we really look away and pretend nothing happened? It would be to our shame as a nation and would be our doing. Justice exists for a reason, and we must exercise it to the fullest when face with crimes of this nature. If we carry on, regardless, one thing is assured: it will happen again if those who perpetrated it are never prosecuted.

I recall the United Nation’s Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung Wha Kang’s words that, Kenya has no option but to adopt and implement it in full for the sake of justice and democracy in the country and for the future.
"Lets hold ourselves into account as we hold our leaders into account" Njeri Kabeberi the Executive Director of the Centre for Multi-Party Democracy-Kenya.

“Implementation and action must replace invasion and denial…to bring to justice the perpetrators of the serious crimes will be a critical test of the Kenyan political leadership in the struggle to end impunity.”
What does this mean for us as those who will cast the vote? Our leaders need to inspire hope.

“In a true democracy, it is what happens between elections that are the true measure of how a government treats its people. Today we are starting to see that the Kenyan people want more than a simple changing of guard, more than piecemeal reforms to a crisis that’s crippling their country,” Barrak Obama the President of America in his lecture at the UoN .

It is a wakeup call, not to be swayed by our leader’s rhetoric. Politics is a completion, fact. A competion to enable us to sieve tribalism ideology and embrace politics based on issues and ideals.

Ideals that will quench the Kenyan’s thirst for real change and faster reforms. More needs to be done as we listen to an array of leaders in need for our votes.

As Kenyans, we have to work hard to get ahead. With a slight change of priorities we can make a difference.

To achieve the change that is greatly desired, we also have to change the way we do things with regard to tribalism and corruption no matter how persuasive our leaders speak to us, and unless change comes from within us the change will be elusive.

We should remain hopeful, calm and united despite our diverse opinions as 2012 draws near.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Can photojournalism observe a code of ethics while: Fulfilling the public’s “Right to know” what is in the public interest? Respecting the private lives of the individuals?

Photojournalism like print or broadcast media should inform, educate and entertain society. It also sets the agenda through its portrayal of images. Based on the above, Can photojournalism observe a code of ethics while:

Fulfilling the public’s “Right to know” what is in the public interest?
Respecting the private lives of the individuals?

Information is the oxygen of democracy. If people do not know what is happening in their society, if actions of those who rule them are hidden, then they cannot take a meaningful part in the affairs of that society. But information is not just a necessity for people- it is an essential part of good government. Bad government needs secrecy to survive. It allows inefficiency, wastefulness and corruption to thrive.

Information allows people to scrutinize the actions of a government and is the basis for proper informed debate of those actions. Information includes all records held by a public body, regardless of the form in which the information is stored (Toby Mendel (June 1999).

Role of pictures:

A good news picture is worth a column of words.  Therefore, any news item could be less informative, less complete and less attractive without pictures. Pictures not only supplement the text; they enhance and extend it by highlighting and pressing upon the reader important parts of it; they make it easier for the reader to build up a picture of what is being read.

Based on these, pictures therefore, illustrates the text and forms an element in the page design. Thus a good picture will be considered to be worth a good space. Its shape and size will govern the disposition of stories and headlines around it. It will become a fixed point in the design to which the other elements adapt, although it still has to fulfill its function of informing the readers since it is part of the day’s input of news (F.W. Hodgson: 1998).

Media critics and viewers question the use of gruesome images, dozens of photographers hounding celebrities, picture manipulations that present misleading views, visual messages that perpetuate negative stereotypes of individuals from various multicultural groups, and images that blur the distinction between advertising and journalism. What is happening?

What is new, however, is the spread of computer technology that allows practically anyone to produce and disseminate visual messages in massive numbers for a world-wide audience. Because images evoke almost immediate emotional responses among viewers, pictures have tremendous impact. With well-chosen words, visual messages combine to educate, entertain and persuade. But the flip side to such visual power is that images can also offend shock, mislead, stereotype and confuse.

Consider some recent examples: the debate on the composition of Mr. Kibaki’s family, pictures of emaciated hunger victims from all over the country, despair on the faces of children within the IDP camps. The stories featured above can be classified into five ethical concerns of most interest to photojournalism professionals: Victims of violence, right to privacy, picture manipulations, stereotyping and advertising/editorial blurring. Right to privacy as a major aspect in the lives of the people – public and private lives will be based on.

Invasion of privacy have developed along false light, private facts and misappropriates. Journalists need to understand that the public’s right to know often to be weighed against the privacy rights of people in the news. Inquiries into an individual’s private life without the persons consent are not generally acceptable unless public interest is involved. Public interest must itself be legitimate and not merely prurient or morbid curiosity. There are four types of violation of someone's privacy:

A quarterly publication of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press titled, Photographers' Guide to Privacy, is helpful in sorting out the areas of privacy law that affect news photographers. Privacy law is divided into four areas:

* Unreasonable intrusion into the seclusion of another,
* Public disclosure of private facts,
* Placing a person in a false light in the public eye, and
* Misappropriation of a name or likeness for commercial gain (Strongman, 1987).

Unreasonable Intrusion: Consent is the most important factor when dealing with unreasonable intrusion or public disclosure of private facts. Generally, anything that can be seen in plain, public view can be photographed. Pictures in private places require permission. A photographer must be sure that the person who gives permission has the authority to grant the request.

Disclosure of Private Facts: Trespass laws require that photojournalists have the permission of an owner of a property before access can be gained.

False Light: Dr. Michael Sherer (1987) of the University of Nebraska explained the concept of false light.

"Generally speaking," Sherer wrote, "A photojournalist can be found guilty of false light invasion of privacy if a person's image is placed before the public . . . in an untrue setting or situation". For there to be a false light decision against a photographer, the image must be highly offensive to a reasonable person, the photographer must have known that the image was false, or the photographer acted "with 'reckless disregard' (in other words, did not care) about whether the information was true or not". 

Misappropriation: The fourth area of trouble for a photojournalist in a privacy case is using a person's image for monetary gain without that person's permissions, a photographer may have the right to photograph anyone in public, but problems will occur when that image is published and is used to represent a class of individuals without that person's consent (Coleman, 1988).

When covering a news event, courts have ruled that photographers do not have to conform to rigid rules required for a subject's consent. Nevertheless, news media organizations are sometimes sued by individuals who argue that because the newspaper makes money, their violation of privacy case is valid. Most of these cases go in favor of the news organization on appeal because of the newsworthiness of the images. Freelance photographers, as Sherer (1987) noted, "need to pay special attention to the appropriation concept.

There have been cases in which the selling of a photograph without the permission of those in the image had been held to be an appropriation of the person's likeness".

Public officials and celebrities also feel that journalists sometimes cross that yellow journalism line in covering their everyday activities.

Historically, invasion of privacy issues are linked with candid photography. Limitations with the type of camera, lenses, and film in the early days of photography prevented many of the candid moments that are commonplace today. Once cameras became hand-held and lenses and film became faster, amateur and professional photographers were able to make pictures that previously were impossible.

It was rare when a photographer could capture a spontaneous news event. More likely, subjects in news and feature assignments were carefully composed by the photographer to create a static or stereotyped look. As Wilson Hicks (1973), author of Words and Pictures wrote, "Instead of picture consciousness, it was a time of camera consciousness. Practically everybody looked at the camera. . . .

When the photographer entered a situation of movement involving people, life stopped dead in its tracks and orientated itself to the camera".

Privacy violations would not became an issue if it were not for editors who were willing to publish the revealing, hidden moments. Magazine and newspaper editors once the halftone process became relatively inexpensive and aesthetically acceptable, were eager to fill their pages with photographs that were used, admittedly, to sell more copies. Hicks (1973) summed up the philosophy of the editors of the day with, "Get the picture-nothing else mattered". This was the era of the scoop. Competition was so fierce that photographers would go to great lengths to beat a rival photographer.

Some critics complain that deadline pressures and competitiveness are responsible for journalists sometimes trampling on the privacy of others. Zuckerman (1989) noted that "News organizations, driven by intense competition, rarely let concern for a victim's privacy get in the way of a scoop".
The Star Sinai fire photo: a matter of ethics,facts and truth

Consequently, photojournalists can observe a code of ethics while respecting the private lives of the individuals and fulfilling the “public’s right to know because it is the media's job to publish what is true. It is its job to give the audience news and that of truthful news. The most serious concern with the media is that what they reveal to the audience must be true because as a society we are greatly influenced by what we read, hear, and see through the press.

 The National Press Photographers Association, a professional society dedicated to the advancement of photojournalism, acknowledges concern and respect for the public's natural-law right to freedom in searching for the truth and the right to be informed truthfully and completely about public events and the world in which we live. To that end the National Press Photographers Association sets forth the following Code of Ethics which is subscribed to by all of its members:

“It is the individual responsibility of every photojournalist at all times to strive for pictures that report truthfully, honestly and objectively.”

“In documentary photojournalism, it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way (electronically or in the darkroom) that deceives the public.”

Publishing false or inaccurate information directly is the biggest and most devastating thing a journalist or media can do. That is the underlining factor of the two. Publishing private and true embarrassing facts may hurt someone severely, but journalists feel that it is a right for a person in the audience to know the truth. Ethically, the journalist must give the facts. Journalistic ethics understands that the worst possible thing is to give false information. Not only is it ethically wrong, but also, through the law, libel is a bigger problem. In actuality most initial invasion of privacy suits, especially in false light are changed to libel suits because they are more damaging.

Moreover, many readers react strongly to pictures that seem to violate the privacy of others, it is important to be clear on the legal and ethical issues surrounding the right to privacy.

A guiding principle for journalists in deciding to cover a story is whether the event is newsworthy. Newsworthiness is not determined by the number of cameras pointed through, but a concept with roots to unemotional, objective and reasoned journalism principles.

In 1946, the Hutchins Commission came out with a definition of news that still applies today: A truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day's events in a context which gives them meaning. Unfortunately, media officials under pressure from circulation or rating figures make decisions that sensationalize rather than explain complex stories of interest to the public. Live pictures for the nightly newscast of a speculating reporter in front of a brightly lit brick mansion increase the charge of sensational coverage by critics. In an ideal world, journalists tell stories in words and pictures that explain rather than cause a viewer to ask more questions.

Picture and subject manipulations have been a part of photography since it was first invented. But because of computer technology, digital manipulations are relatively easy to accomplish, hard to detect and perhaps more alarming, alter the original image so that checking the authenticity of the picture is impossible.

Computer technology did not start the decline in the credibility of pictures, but it has hastened it. Photographic darkrooms are quickly being replaced by computer workstation light rooms. But as long as photojournalists do not subtract or add parts of a picture's internal elements, almost any other manipulation once accomplished in a photographic darkroom is considered ethical for news-editorial purposes.

Two factors may guard against a further erosion of credibility in visual messages: Reputation of the media organization that publishes or broadcasts images and the words that accompany the manipulated picture.

Credibility is not an inherent quality of a particular picture, but a concept based on tradition, story choices, design considerations and reader perception of the company or individual that produces the image.

Words are also vital in assuring the credibility of a news organization and a picture. If a photojournalist or art director is tempted to combine parts from two separate pictures to create a third picture, the reader needs to know that such an action has taken place. The cut line for the image should include the details of the manipulation while the image itself should be labeled an illustration -- not a news-editorial picture. Such an addition would at least solve one aspect of the ethical problem -- letting the reader know of the illustrative technique.

In conclusion, photography is undergoing an exciting and challenging time in its history. Currently, the photographic medium is in a hybrid or transitional period between traditional film and computer technologies. It is reasonable to predict that by the first decade of the next century, photojournalists will no longer use film in their cameras or developer in their trays.

Print and screen media will also dramatically change as households are linked with fiber optic technology. Newspapers and televisions will be transformed into a medium that combines the best attributes of the printed page, telephone, television and computer. These will transform passive readers and viewers into active users with instantaneous links to text and images from sources anywhere in the world.

But no matter how the tools of journalism change, fundamental ethical concerns still apply.

Photographers are constantly defining reality. By selecting what stays in the tiny 35mm frame and becomes a picture, the photographer makes a conscious or unconscious decision to edit out a vast majority of the scene. Choices of film, camera, lens, aperture, shutter speed, angle of view, filters, lighting, and cropping can change a photograph's meaning. The reason why the principles of objectivity and truthfulness are so often stressed is because a photographer can easily lose his or her objectivity and not tell the truth.

Professionals, academics and students owe it to their readers to be sensitive to unethical practices that demean the profession and reduce the credibility of journalism.

Therefore, it is imperative that whenever and wherever possible, ethical issues be discussed by all those concerned about the journalism profession.