Obama: 'Press freedom is like tending a garden'

United States Senator Barack Obama called on Monday for stepped up protection

of press freedom and the environment, meeting with embattled Kenyan journalists and Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai.

On the fourth day of his triumphant return to his father’s homeland, the rising political star toured the offices of a local media group that was raided earlier this year and planted a tree with environmental champion Maathai.

Speaking at Nairobi’s Standard Media Group, Obama offered a pep talk to employees concerned by growing assaults on press freedom, particularly in Sudan where a journalist from his home state of Illinois was arrested this month.

“Challenges facing the media and press freedom are issues facing journalists across the globe,” he said. “Journalists undergo various challenges on their day-to-day basis.”

“As you are aware, one of our reporters from the Chicago Tribune is being detained in the Sudan allegedly on charges of espionage,” Obama said, calling for a quick resolution of the case of Paul Salopek.

Salopek, a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune on assignment for National Geographic in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, was charged at the weekend with espionage, reporting false information and entering Sudan without a visa.

“This is a matter that the State Department and journalists’ organisations are taking seriously,” Obama said, before returning to the case of The Standard, which was raided in March after reporting on government corruption.

“This is a problem that is worldwide, it is not isolated to Kenya,” he told journalists, calling the raid “unfortunate.”

“We should press governments across the world to be more accountable and transparent.”

“The media should not be intimidated by these challenges because they are things they face quite often,” Obama said, urging the press to “uphold ethics governing them because they are answerable to the people and not governments”.

“Press freedom is like tending a garden, it continually has to be nurtured and cultivated,” he said. “The citizenry has to value it because it’s one of those things that can slip away if we’re not vigilant.”

Later, after planting a tree with Maathai, Kenya’s former deputy environment minister who won 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in planting trees to promote development, Obama lamented ecological losses around the world.

He singled out US President George Bush’s refusal to join the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its offshoot, the Kyoto Protocol, which sets out measures for tackling greenhouse gas pollution.

“My attitude is that even if the Kyoto Protocol wasn’t the perfect arrangement we should have continued to negotiate,” he said after the tree-planting at Nairobi’s vast Uhuru Park.
- Sapa-AFP

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