• Since the Westgate Mall raid, there has been a marked improvement in security response, access to information and professional coverage by the media.
• Terrorists thrive on publicity and will claim responsibility even on attacks not associated with them.
As we mourn the loss of lives in recent terror attacks in the country, media and security agencies seem to have learnt new things in mitigating the impact of such strikes on the economic and social lives of Kenyans.
Increasingly and from the spate of attacks since the Westgate Mall raid, there has been a marked improvement in security response, access to information and professional coverage by the media.
National security and access to information are not antagonistic principles, and where trust and professionalism exist, they work well not to hide information as its ordinarily thought, but to share strategic information that allows the nation to minimise the impact of the security breaches.
Where trust exists, media and government dialogue and engagement over progress and attack statistics are normal for the good of the country. We are yet to reach the most desirable state of dealing with such and maximum cooperation between the media and security agencies and the most glaring gap is the lack of trust between the media and security agencies in information sharing.
For journalists with close contacts with security agencies, it is no longer a major issue when dealing with national security issues, for the general media. It can, however, be done better.
Information on the operational issues is largely restrained by the force standing orders, and some of the issues happen so fast in remote areas. But organised and rapid response gives citizens the confidence that despite the attack, they are safe. And it’s not about competing with the enemy, but the much-needed assurance that something has happened and we are aware.
For historical reasons, there is still mistrust and reluctance for enhanced information flow, guided or otherwise, between the two.Victor Bwire
For historical reasons, there is still mistrust and reluctance for enhanced information flow, guided or otherwise, between the two.
While it’s understandable that the access to information and freedom of expression provisions — including the prevention of terrorism Act and force standing orders —restrain sharing of information on national security, the changing landscape, especially with the use \of online media, requires that we are quick and strategic with information sharing following such incidents.
While mainstream media has guidelines and will not necessarily breach national security protocols, a number of information sources spring with enticing information that easily gets to the public domain causing fear and panic.
In the case of terrorists, it is known that they operate highly sophisticated communication and misinformation campaigns, especially after such attacks. So, any delay from the authorities in commenting, whichever way, on the situation creates wild guesses and room for propaganda.
Terrorists thrive on publicity and will claim responsibility even on attacks not associated with them.
It’s important that information, even if it is just acknowledging that such an event has happened, it’s being contained, and need for calm as well as the number of casualties is shared with the media. This is very critical because during that period, it is receiving so much information from all manner of sources.
It is thus best practice that government communication is released so that media has the role of deciding which is the credible source of information.
Details even small as the exact location of the attack and what the security forces are doing are critical. Obviously there are those who oppose such dialogues and close working together on media and security agencies during terror attacks or other national security breaches.
However, unless some of the existing laws are removed from the statutes, we still advise that the media respects them to minimise conflicts with security agencies. The Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya provides that the media should avoid presenting acts of violence, armed robberies, banditry and terrorist activities in a manner that glorifies such anti-social conduct.
Also, newspapers should not allow their columns to be used for writings that tend to encourage or glorify social evils, warlike activities, ethnic, racial or religious hostilities.
A number of laws with serious provisions on media coverage of national security, especially terrorism, including the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the National Intelligence Service Act in 2012, still exist.
The penal code provides that any person who publishes any false statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace has committed an offense.
The Official Secrets Act provides that any person who obtains, collects, records, publishes or communicates in whatever manner to any other person any code word, plan, article, document or information that is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to a foreign power or disaffected person commits an offense.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act no 12 of 2012 criminalises anyone who ‘advocates, glorifies, advises, incited or facilitates’ the commission of a terrorist act or any act preparatory to a terrorist act.
The Act criminalises anyone who adopts or promotes an extreme belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious or social change.
This offense is punishable by a maximum of 30 years.