VICTOR BWIRE: End impunity against journalists, media

Attacks have left journalists scared of performing their mandate.

In Summary
  • The petition to the Senate House Committee on National Security about the continuing attacks and intimidation of journalists has a lot of merit.
  • The petition outlined that journalists in the countries go through physical attacks, intimidation, bribery to kill stories, confiscation of equipment and denial of access to information.
Journalists at work.
TRAINING: Journalists at work.
Image: FILE

Remarks by Senators Edwin Sifuna (Nairobi), Hillary Sigei (Bomet) and Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho) at the Senate on the spate of attacks against journalists on Wednesday laid bare how freedom of the media is suppressed in the counties.

The petition to the Senate House Committee on National Security about the continuing attacks and intimidation of journalists has a lot of merit.

It outlined that journalists in the countries go through physical attacks, intimidation, bribery to kill stories, confiscation of equipment and denial of access to information.

This has left journalists scared of performing their mandate and as such, they only report events that paint the countries on a positive note.

Many journalists when queried why certain key happenings were not covered, a tale of intimidation, harassment, and denial of information often pops up.

Senators must be updated that when Governors appear before senators for questioning regarding expenditures,  many stories exposing the sorry state of affairs in devolved units never see the light of day.

This has been exacerbated by bathroom deals where money is exchanged to suppress the truth.

The level of professionalism is embarrassing. 

With over 200 people including journalists allowed to cover the August House proceedings,  without proper professional accreditation,  the media centre at Parliament has been turned into something else.

But even as we examine the challenges bedevilling journalists in their line of duty, lack of investigation and prosecution of press freedom violations is a key barrier to independent journalism and access to information.

While the attacks meted out on journalists are dozens in number, only a handful of cases have been completed and judgements given in the country’s history.

High-profile cases such as the deaths of journalists Francis Nyaruri in Kisii, John Kituyi in Eldoret, and John Masha in Kilifi remain unresolved.

The UNESCO Secretary-General has been following up on the matter annually without any conclusive response from the relevant authorities.

While efforts have been by the Kenya Media Sector Working Group to monitor and document several cases of press freedom violations and attacks, relevant authorities have failed to tame the incidences.

Many of the cases have landed on the desks of the Inspector General of Police and the Director of Public Prosecution but in the end, there is nothing to show in terms of success.

Kenya has very strong constitutional provisions that provide for the protection of journalists.

They emphasise the right to safety and security, labour and the right to life.

Similarly, Kenya is a signatory to several regional and international treaties and pacts that obligate the State to provide security and protect the right to life for all their citizens.

In article 34 through to article 35, the media is given special and extensive coverage to enjoy freedom and independence.

The media is protected by the Constitution, in that, “the state shall not-(a) exercise control over or interfere with any person engaged in broadcasting, the production or circulation of any publication or the dissemination of information by any medium; (b) penalize any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination”.

The County Governments Act No. 17 of 2012 requires that County Government use the media to create awareness on devolution and governance; actively and deliberately promote citizens understanding for purposes of peace and national cohesion; undertake advocacy on core development issues such as agriculture, education, health, security, economics, sustainable environment among others.

Thus, media remains a key player in the constitutional implementation, promotion of development accountable leadership and progressive governance both at the national and county levels.

Suffice it to say that professional media, access to information and media freedom are quintessence to the success of devolution.

County leaders must embrace and appreciate a media that demands them to be accountable without resorting to blocking them from accessing the county leadership of intimidation.

Kenya is a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals of SDG 16.10 which protects “Public access to information and fundamental freedoms in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”.

 SDG 16.10.1 requires member states and other stakeholders to monitor and report on the “Number of verified cases of killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture of journalists, associated media personnel, trade unionists and human rights advocates in the previous 12 months.

These cases of attacks against journalists have always mirrored the country’s SDG report, which Kenya presents to the UN Human Rights Council to update on the status of achievement of the same.

Attacks and violence against journalists violate the Kenya Constitution which provides for the protection of all Kenyans and freedom of expression.

It is also a violation of international treaties that Kenya is party to, including General Comment 34 on Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In 1997, UNESCO Member States passed Resolution 29 on “Condemnation of violence against journalists”.

The Resolution was adopted by States in response to serious concerns about the killing of journalists in many countries and the evidence of the spread of impunity – that is, the persistent failure of the lawful authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

UN Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006) condemns attacks against journalists in conflict situations.

Through the Arusha and Addis Declarations, both state and non-state actors agreed to among other things strengthen national mechanisms for the safety of journalists.

It also called for the e judicial accountability for crimes against journalists by supporting investigative or data-driven journalism that highlights crimes against members of the press which have not achieved judicial closure.

Governments should, therefore, create enabling legal and institutional frameworks on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists, particularly the safety of women journalists, ratify the Protocol establishing the African Court of Human and People’s Rights.

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