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PRESS FREEDOM

Media watchdog protests Nyandarua gag order

County commissioner Boaz Cherutich suggested journalists should submit stories to KNA for vetting

In Summary

• Reporters were blocked form covering an incident at Ol Kalou police station last week.

• Commissioner Cherutich assures journalists will be allowed to enjoy their constitutional rights.

MCK officials Dinah Ondari,Geradine Mukala and Minishi Bavon during a meeting with Nyandarua journalists at Royal Garden Hotel,Ol Kalou,on Tuesday
MCK officials Dinah Ondari,Geradine Mukala and Minishi Bavon during a meeting with Nyandarua journalists at Royal Garden Hotel,Ol Kalou,on Tuesday
Image: Ndichu Wainaina

A team from the Media Council of Kenya on Tuesday visited Nyandarua to address concerns of harassment of journalists while on duty.

MCK offcials took Nyandarua county commissioner Boaz Cherutich to task over his recent suggestion that journalists working for the mainstream media should share their stories with authorities and submit them for vetting by Kenya News Agency before submission to their editors.

Dinah Ondari (press freedom and ethics), Geraldine Mukala (media analyst) and Minishi Bavon (regulatory affairs) addressed harassment of journalists at Ol Kalou police station last Friday.

Police attempted to bar reporters from covering an incident where a car suspected to be involved in crime burned inside the police station.

On Wednesday, June 5, while giving his closing remarks at a three-day forum on developing Nyandarua’s action plan to prevent and counter violent extremism, Cherutich made his suggestion which journalists in the county felt was an insult.

“I would like to also request our brothers and sisters from the media that before you release any content please, I think it is important that you share and work closely with KNA. They work very effectively. They can look at it and then you will be advised whether this is the right material to go out so that you don’t escalate issues," he said.

While meeting Nyandarua journalists in Ol Kalou after meeting with the county security committee, the MCK team said the county commissioner explained to them that his statement did not mean independent media would be gagged or their work subjected to vetting.

Ondari said Cherutich committed to ensure the media freedom is protected and journalists granted their space to work.

“We are very cautious to ensure that even when verification is done, we don’t cross the boundaries of media freedom and independence because it would be seen to be punitive to ask journalists to subject their stories to vetting by a government agency because that defeats the principle of press freedom," Ondari said

She added, “We took the county commissioner to task and he gave his commitment that he will to it see that no such action is implemented and that they will be able to work in partnership with journalists.”

Ondari told journalists the county security officials told them they were concerned by the manner in which information related to security was being relayed to the public.

She said the MCK team made it clear that such challenges can be addressed without necessarily appearing to block journalists from accessing information because their right to press freedom and access to information is provided for and protected under Articles 34 and 35 of the Constitution.

 

Last week, a car suspected to be involved in crime was taken to Ol Kalou police station after its four occupants abandoned it and escaped on foot following a chase by members of the public. It was parked next to Nyandarua Central DCI office.

But on Friday morning the car burned. County commissioner Cherutich said the OCS informed him the car caught fire at 3am.

The journalists who went to cover the incident were harassed by police officers who threatened to shoot them.

Jimmy wa Muthoni of Kameme FM and Waikwa Maina of the Nation Media group were the first to arrive at the station on Friday morning and the Nyandarua Central subcounty police commander Leonard Kimaiyu allowed them to view the burned car and take photos before getting his brief.

But they were confronted by police who ordered them to get out of the station.