Thursday 13 March, 1997 -- The newspaper that serves the nation

Moi, Aga Khan challenge Press `Nation' press inaugurated


President Moi yesterday stated that ``the role of the media in the social and economic development of any nation must not be underestimated.'' ``The media is not just an important partner in national development, it is an agent to influence thought and social change,'' he said during the inauguration of a new Sh750 million printing facility for Nation Newspapers Ltd in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan.

Recognising that in a multi-ethnic environment ``a partisan Press is a great danger to democracy and good governance'', the President said: ``We will continue to accept criticism that is fair and well-intentioned''.

``The influence that the media has on the thinking and conduct of people'' he continued, ``must never be used to weaken the positive aspects of the culture of our people or to undermine the moral fabric of society''.

In his speech, the Aga Khan said ``the role of an independent Press is to give the public the information which it needs to carry out its responsibilities. And this special task _ the role of observing and informing _ is a role that not even the most enlightened government can ever play for itself''.

``A healthy Press makes for a healthy government and a healthy government makes for a healthy Press. Together, they make a healthy society''.

The Nation Group was founded in 1960 by the Aga Khan as he said at the time, ``to publish newspapers edited and staffed by Africans, containing news of specific interest to Africans and expressing an African point of view to a predominantly African audience.'' Recalling the 37-year history of the Group in the context of the role of the Press in contemporary society, the Aga Khan described a newspaper's corporate duty as to act as ``the people's observer''.

``In the long run, every newspaper must be held accountable for the way it does its work . . . not to any single authority, official or unofficial. But accountable to the organic, pluralistic community that stretches out over space and time.'' The Aga Khan spoke on the ``rights of the Press as an independent social critic'' saying that it was also important ``to talk about the obligations of the Press as a constructive social leader''.

He described this sense of social obligation as ``avoiding that obsessive individualism which is so rampant in our world. It means rejecting the celebration of success for its own sake regardless of its social impact. It means resisting the siren song of sensationalism and sectarianism _ as ways to build short-term readership and short-term profits. It means writing and editing newspapers with a concern for social cohesion and with a sense of moral standards.'' Stating that many of the most thoughtful critics of the Press were people who are part of the Press, the Aga Khan said that ``when newspaper people acknowledge the shortcomings of the Press, this does not mean that they care any less about the freedom of the Press. In fact, the reason Press leaders talk so much about Press responsibility is that they care so deeply about Press freedom.'' Referring to the explosion of technology in the media industry, the Aga Khan challenged the view that ``the developing world in general and Africa in particular, may be left behind by this revolution''. ``I would argue just the reverse,'' he said. ``It seems to me that societies which have invested less in old technologies have the potential to propel themselves into new technologies, provided they have the commitment and resources to do so.'' The Nation Group today employs 490 staff and has a turnover of Sh1.5 billion and is the largest newspaper publishing company in East and Central Africa.

The Aga Khan's involvement in the Nation Group is in his private and personal capacity. In his institutional role as Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, he oversees a number of international non-denominational institutions, grouped under the Aga Khan Development Network, which are active in Africa and South and Central Asia. These institutions work in the areas of healthcare, education and rural development, the promotion of private sector enterprise and in the field of culture, more particularly in respect to the architecture and heritage of Muslim societies.

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