BWIRE: Who should protect journalists?

Francis Gachuri
Citizen TV journalist (right) at Wiper Party Headquarters where he was roughed up by goons.

Once again, the messenger is being attacked merely for conveying the message, and doing their professional duty. The shooting the messenger as commonly used when referring to attacking media is becoming unbearable.

The number of journalists who in the recent past have been harassed and their equipment confiscated is an indication of a profession under siege. In addition to journalists being harassed and profiled by goons from both sides of the political divide, media houses being intimidated against covering some particular individuals and some journalists forced to flee their areas of work, the perpetrators have never been apprehended.

Now steps must jointly be taken to save the media and journalists from the siege, starting with demanding that politicians be made to pay for the damage their followers mete on journalists and authorities to investigate and prosecute perpetrators.

Felix Ayieta Nyambura, Berely Nyar Gwasi, Evans Olouch, Eric Oloo, Abdikadir Chari, Mathews Ndanyi, Namisi Chebutai, Shaaban Makokha, Linet Wafula, Crispin Sichere, Dan Ocholla, Duncan Khaemba, Matina Stevis, Simon Achola, Caleb Kingwara, Evans Habil, Mwanaharusi Rashid, Stella Cherono, Rashid Ronald, Francis Gachuri, to name just a few have passed through nasty experiences from either criminal goons, political activists and security agencies.

Safety and protection of journalist is now a major concern in Kenya. Until now, none of the cases has fully been investigated nor the perpetrators prosecuted. In addition to the physical threats and attacks against journalists, some cases are reported where the Judiciary is dishing out huge fines against civil related cases related to defamation cases while in the most extreme, some media houses have failed to respond to court sermons while others have ignored the plight of their journalists’ altogether.

Cases of journalists being targets for attacks largely from political party activists, criminal goons, informal religious groups, politicians and business barons and communities for not representing them or their interests well in the media are ripe in this country. There are some areas that are a no-go zone for certain media in the country, simply because people are not happy with the ownership of such stations. The geographical zoning is a dangerous trend for media freedom and freedom of expression.

Increasing attacks against journalists as the elections in Kenya approach are not misplaced and or are well founded. Many media researchers have alluded to the Kenyan media’s partial bipartisanship and overt complicity in the lead up to the outbreak of violence following the disputed presidential election results of December 2007 namely, Kenya Media Under Pressure: Nairobi Declaration (January 2008), (Makhokha 2010,) (Namwaya 2010) and (Nyanjom 2012).

Indeed, the Justice Kriegler and the Justice Waki reports were categorical on the collective media’s role both overtly and covertly in stirring up and abetting the violence by their performance or lack of during the country’s most trying period since independence.

Attacks and violence against journalists violates the Kenya Constitution that provides for the safety and security of all Kenyans and the protection of freedom of expression via ARTICLE 34. It is also a violation of international treaties that Kenya is party to.

UNESCO Resolution 29 adopted in 1997 dubbed, “Condemnation of violence against journalists” urged the competent authorities of states to discharge their duty of preventing, investigating and punishing such crimes and remedying their consequences and it urged member states to refine their legislation to make it possible to prosecute and sentence those who instigate the assassination of persons exercising the right to freedom of expression.

UN Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006) condemns attacks against journalists in conflict situations with journalists engaged in dangerous professionals missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered civilians, to be protected as such.

The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights guarantees individuals against arbitrary deprivation of the right to life (Article 4) and establishes an absolute prohibition of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 5) and further guarantees the right to liberty and security of the person (Article 6), and freedom of expression (Article 9).

The Writer is the Programmes Manager and Journalists safety trainer at the Media Council of Kenya

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