BWIRE: It’s time to revisit protection of journalists in Kenya

By Victor Bwire

The mysterious circumstances surrounding journalist Azory Gwanda, in Tanzania, whose fate remains unknown are similar to what happened to the deaths of two journalist in Kenya; Henry Nyaruri and John Kitiyu, whose killers remain publicly unknown.

For many in the freedom of expression sphere, the impunity that relates to violators of press freedom seems a routine, and however unacceptable, seems a major factor that threatens access to quality information to citizens in many countries.

Other threats to professional journalism include corruption, lack of training, skewed employment and working policies, misinformation and financial constraints that are closely relate to the impulsive nature of investments in the sector.

The situation of media freedom is worrying and the response from the duty bearers in Kenya are even more concerning.

Cases of harassment of journalists forwarded to investigating agencies are not encouraging and the national safety and protection of journalists’ mechanism formed by media stakeholders needs to be rejuvenated.

We need a robust engagement within the sector on the issues of protection of professional journalism and citizen access to quality information.

In 2018, UN and press freedom organizations reported that over 99 journalists and media workers were killed, over 300 were in detention and 60 were being held hostage.

This is happening even within the context our countries having national, regional and global conventions enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The recent Global Conference for Media Freedom held in London co-hosted by the United Kingdom and Canada, as part of an international campaign intended to respond to the UN Secretary General’s call to “protect journalists and media workers, and to create the conditions they need to do their essential work, and to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of attacks on them”, is one such indication of how there is growing concern about press freedom.

According to the organizers of the conference, given the importance of the global information space as a shared public good, there is a renewed need to safeguard its integrity.

In addition to physical threats and psychosocial issues that seem a major challenge facing journalists, the widespread use of digital technologies with associated disinformation, previously a feature of print and broadcast media, into the online world has dented the credibility of the media, which must be confronted.

As in the rest of the world, media in Kenyan is operating in an unpredictable and swiftly changing political, social, cultural, economic and technological environment that has heavily influenced its performance.

The worst is the hostile and inadequate political, legal, policy and regulatory environment that continue to negatively impact on the media in Kenya. While the media in Kenya has taken advantage of the expanded democratic space and proved effective and more vigilant in reporting on human rights abuses in the country a gulf still exists between the media and human rights organizations in terms of understanding and communication.

On one-hand, human rights organizations have complained about the media’s inadequate and sometimes reckless coverage of human right issues, while on the other hand journalists have always criticized the lack of relevant and newsworthy information being provided to them by the human rights organisations.

The media has been very receptive to the human rights discourse but they need support. It is not the moral responsibility of the media to promote human rights respect but in view of the fact that many journalists are ignorant of what human rights are, media houses should encourage the training and creation of human rights desks in the newsrooms.

The intimidation and harassment of the media should however not be the case, for a free media has a critical role to play in the democratisation process including during elections. Media must be left to their work without intimidation especially at this critical time in the country.

In similar terms, journalists must uphold integrity and professionalism while discharging their duties. Seeking and reporting the truth, minimising harm, maintaining independence and above all, observing transparency and accountability remains key principles for jourmalists.

The Writer is the Head of Media Development and Strategy, the Media Council of Kenya

latest stories