VICTOR BWIRE: National safety, protection for journalists viable option to end impunity

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

In Summary

• Media stakeholders in Kenya have come up with creative ways of dealing with the safety and protection of journalists and media practitioners.

• The creative approach has taken advantage of the government's repeated declaration that the safety of journalists is the primary responsibility of the State. 

 

Press freedom - journalists at work.
Press freedom - journalists at work.
Image: FILE

The safety and protection of Journalists remain an elusive dream in Kenya just like the rest of the world even as several laws are enacted and international treaties that obligate them to ensure protection are domesticated.

Among the many reasons why the safety of journalists was a challenge in the country is the lack of coordination among media stakeholders, weak self-regulatory and peer review mechanisms, impunity, flagrant violation of ethical standards by journalist and media practitioners and lack of solidarity amongst media support groups and professional associations which allow the conditions of impunity against journalists to flourish.

For these reasons, media stakeholders in Kenya have come up with creative ways of dealing with the safety and protection of journalists and media practitioners.

The creative approach has taken advantage of the government's repeated declaration that the safety of journalists is the primary responsibility of the State. 

Kenya has very strong constitutional provisions that provide for the protection of journalists as any other citizens including the right to safety and security, labour and right to life.

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

The Kenya Media Sector Working Group convened by the Media Council of Kenya and the Kenya Union of Journalists has established national mechanisms for the safety of journalists that facilitates a rapid response approach to dealing with cases of journalists and media practitioners in distress.

The national mechanisms shall seek to bring together all the actors including the following: - The three branches of government (Executive, Legislature and Judicial), Associations of Journalists and Media Workers, Lawyers associations, Civil Society/Human Rights defenders, Journalism training and research institutions, media regulatory bodies, NGOs, INGOs, relevant United Nations Agencies, Programmes and Funds, bilateral and international media development.

The Focal points at the National Police Service Commission and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution have been very consistent in their participation in the safety mechanism, which is very encouraging.

With time, the issue of lack of investigation and prosecution of press freedom violations will be comprehensively dealt with in the country.

Each of the participating institutions nominates a focal person to the committee to coordinate, mobilise resources, share best practices, support, and monitor the progress of the national safety mechanisms.

The mandate is to develop a national multi-stakeholder coordination system bringing on board the three arms of government and all other media stakeholders. 

This they do with a mandate to promote and defend freedom of expression, press freedom, access to information and safety of journalists, comprehensively addressing the safety of journalists and providing a platform for knowledge sharing and accountability.

This includes dedicated units for preventing crimes against journalists, protecting journalists and supporting and follow-up mechanisms to ensure prosecution of the perpetrators.

The MCK maintains a database of cases of press freedom violations, interventions and status of progress that are jointly accessed by key members of the national safety and protection mechanism

The Kenya Media Sector Working Group (KMSWG) has been operational since its inception in March 2017 and has registered progress in coordinating joint activities in the media sector despite challenges.

These gains, opportunities and challenges are some of the issues Kenya will be making during the 41st General Conference of Unesco in Paris this week through the Communication and Communication programme.

The issue of the safety and protection of journalists is very critical in Kenya with an election coming in 2022 and more especially if the Government is intent on respecting and honouring SDG 16.10 protects “Public access to information and fundamental freedoms in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”, and  SDG 16.10.1 which 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.

Kenya is currently working on an SDG report that will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council to update on the status of achievement of the same.

Players in the media sector from the East and Horn of Africa including Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, Somaliland, Madagascar, meeting over the years in Nairobi ( Nairobi) Declaration, Arusha, Tanzania ( Arusha Declaration),  and Addis Ababa ( Addis Declaration) have severally agreed to among other things to strengthen national mechanisms for safety of journalists as multi-stakeholder vehicles for addressing the safety of journalist and tackling the issue of impunity for crimes against journalists; create and support robust monitoring, documentation and reporting systems to enable create reports for different mechanisms e.g SDG 16.10.1 reports.

Others are to pursue judicial accountability for crimes against journalists by supporting investigative or data-driven journalism that highlights crimes against journalists which have not achieved judicial closure by the justice system and build public awareness of the work of national mechanisms through the engagement of various stakeholders to ensure buy-in and stimulate discussion and actions around the issue of impunity.

Additionally, they agreed to deepen strategic partnership with the sub-regional bodies particularly the East African Community and its organs especially the East African Legislative Assembly and East African Court of Justice and actively engage with and create learning and advocacy networks with regional bodies, particularly the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights and the African Commission on Human and peoples' Rights; Pan-African Parliament, African Peer Review Mechanism and the African Union Commission.

Governments were urged to create enabling legal and institutional frameworks on freedom of expression and safety of journalists, particularly the safety of women journalists, ratify the Protocol establishing the African Court of Human and People’s Rights and submit a declaration for recognition of the jurisdiction of the Court under Article 34(6) in order to allow their citizens access to the services of the Court and enforcement of its judgments, particularly those on freedom of expression and safety of journalists; domesticate the African Charter on Election, Democracy and Governance;  and designate government focal persons and support national mechanisms for safety of journalists.