By PATRICK MAYOYO
Ever since, March 27, 2018 when police assaulted and injured three journalists at JKIA as they covered the drama that characterised lawyer Miguna Miguna’s return to Kenya from Canada no action has been taken on this issue.
Those assaulted and injured included Nation TV cameraman Robert Gichira, Citizen TV reporter Stephen Letoo while KTN News Senior Reporter Sophia Wanuna was slapped by one of the officers in one of the ugliest scenes of media attacks in the recent past.
Surprisingly, Dennis Itumbi, State House Secretary Digital, Innovations and Diaspora Communications, saluted police and immigration officials for “a job well done.”
Since then no police officer has been questioned or arraigned in court over this growing list of barbaric incidents against journalists.
But as journalists around the world celebrate the World Press Freedom Day journalists in Kenya need to reflect on these incidents and others that gives a bearing on the kind of environment they are operating in.
I am happy that both the Kenya editors Guild and the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) have raised their concerns about this matter.
The Kenya Editors’ Guild said the operationalisation of the Access to Information Act, which was passed in 2016, and the ongoing debate on the Computer and Cybercrime Bill offers the Head of State an opportunity to pitch for a free press.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, the Guild’s chairman Churchill Otieno said it imperative that the government commits itself to press freedom in word, but also in deed by ensuring that journalists are accorded the space, autonomy and protection to carry out their work.
“Only in this way would it ring loud and clear across this great country that media freedom is a key pillar of our democratic governance and that a country allows this freedom to thrive reaps the numerous gains that come with it,” Mr Otieno said.
Mr Otieno also raised his concerns about the Access to Information Act that was enacted two years ago, but throughout this period, it has not been operationalised and no government agency is complying with it.
He also took issue with the Computer and Cybercrime Bill passed two weeks ago by the National Assembly amidst outcry by a section of the Kenyan society especially on the provisions of fake news, which the Guild says may be open to abuse.
Nation TV cameraman Robert Gichira in pain after he was assaulted by police at JKIA on March 26, 2018. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA
Mr Otieno asked the government to ensure the guidelines of the Act are gazetted. He added that the Guild is currently reviewing the version of the Cybercrime Bill that was passed and will issue a comprehensive statement soon.
And the Kenya Union of Journalists secretary General, Mr Eric Oduor, has called for better working conditions and environment for journalists.
“There can be no press freedom if journalists are hungry, working and living in fear. There is a need for international and national mechanisms to fight impunity and economic crimes against journalists,” Mr Oduor said.
But that is not enough. I want to see them together with the Kenya Media Council taken a more pro-active step towards protecting journalism in this country.
Kenyan media has been under siege since Jubilee took the reins of power in March 2013.
The Jubilee administration created the most difficult environment for press freedom. After they ascended to power they came with the media capture strategy that was largely implemented by data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica that is now set to be declared insolvent.
Media capture is a growing phenomenon linked both to the resurgence of authoritarian governments as well as to the structural weaknesses presently afflicting media markets.
In this environment, the political elite and economic barons are colluding to undermine the independence of privately-owned media through control of advertising revenue.
President Kenyatta’s regime first initiated and a Jubilee-dominated Parliament passed several anti-media laws, including the one that slaps hefty fines and penalties on media houses and individual journalists for breaches.
Several journalists were injured when goons and police attacked journalists covering the return of Mr Odinga from the West.
Several journalists were injured when goons and police attacked journalists as they covered the return of ODM leader Raila Odinga from the West.
Police officers harass former KTN’s Rashid Ronald during NASA’s anti-IEBC demonstrations in Kisumu, October 9, 2017. PHOTO | STANDARD MEDIA
And when some TV stations covered his mock swearing-in on January 30, the government descended on them with a sledge hammer, closing four four several days.
This had never happened in Kenya’s independence history.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day 25th celebration is being led by UNESCO and jointly organized by the Government of the Republic of Ghana and took place in Accra, a demonstration of trust in press freedom in the West African country.
This year’s global theme is ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law’, and covers issues of media and the transparency of the political process, the independence and media literacy of the judicial system, and the accountability of state institutions towards the public. The Day also examine contemporary challenges of ensuring press freedom online.
And as we celebrate the World Press Freedom Day we have to remember that we are not of the woods yet. We also we need to reflect on all cases of crimes against media professionals, present and past.
Citizen TV reporter Stephen Letoo in pain after he was assaulted by General Service Unit officers at JKIA, Nairobi, on March 26, 2018. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA
We have to draw attention to the low conviction rate for violent crimes against journalists and media workers in this country and globally.
We need to remind the authorities about the roughing up Citizen TV’s Francis Gachuri and NTV’s Jane Gatwiri by goons during a meeting called by Nasa at the Wiper headquarters in Nairobi, we need to put pressure on authorities to also act on other cases.
Episodes of journalists being harassed, beaten up or killed have escalated to unprecedented levels in Kenya in the recent past. Journalists have been attacked by politicians, the police, government officials and members of the public, with others losing their lives under mysterious circumstances.
We need to remind the state about the mysterious of disappearances of Dickson Bosire, popularly known as Bogonko Bosire, the founder of Jackal News and former Nation Media Group legal editor, Albert Muriuki, who disappeared while employed by State House as Deputy Director, Constitutional and Legislative Affairs.
Veteran journalist and founder of Mirror Weekly John Kituyi was walking home from work near his home in Eldoret town when he was killed by unknown people.
In 2016, Julius Kariithi, a correspondent with Kenya’s Citizen TV was attacked by over 15 security guards with kicks and batons. He had been covering a protest by primary school pupils against a decision by a local agricultural company to reclaim a piece of land it had allocated the school ten years ago.
In 2016, a freelance photographer Dennis Otieno was gunned down by three men seeking to recover from him a certain ‘sensitive’ photo he had taken earlier in the day in Kitale.
Another correspondent Joseph Masha of the Standard Group based in Kilifi was claimed to have been poisoned when he shared a meal with a vocal politician one evening. The journalist collapsed and died moments after meeting the politician.
In 2009, Francis Nyaruri a journalist with Weekly Citizen was tortured and killed. His mangled and decapitated body was found two weeks after he disappeared.
In 2000, Samuel Nduati a journalist with Royal Media House, was shot dead by unknown assailants. Nduati had worked on several stories about corruption at the Coffee Board of Kenya.
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Nelson Mandela once said: “A critical, independent, and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”
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