• Scenes of reporters being attacked in broad daylight cannot be taken lightly
• Freedom of media has defined Kenya in the region for the longest time
During the Azimio protests, ugly scenes were witnessed whereby police officers were caught on camera harassing and attacking journalists.
This points to the sad state of affairs in this country. We all know the role the media has played since independence in opening up the democratic space that we enjoy today. Undoubtedly, the media has been helpful to keep the government of the day in check.
It is agreeable to say there should be restrained regulation of media to guarantee unbiased reporting but attacking journalists, who are simply undertaking their duties during demonstrations, is uncalled for.
What threats do journalists pose to the country by covering issues that attract national interest?
In the wake of the Azimio demonstrations, the nation has witnessed ugly scenes in Nairobi and other areas of the country with reports emerging that journalists and other players in the media industry have constantly come under attack from the police officers. This has left keen observers to start asking themselves hard questions.
Is free media in Kenya under attack by the state?
Scenes of reporters being attacked in broad daylight cannot be taken lightly, lest we slide into a state where freedom of media as guaranteed under the supreme law is curtailed and this can be a recipe for chaos in a constitutional democracy such as ours.
Freedom of media has defined Kenya in the region for the longest time, even when the country was under an abrasive government under the old constitution.
What is even worrying now is the sustained open verbal attacks against the media by senior state officers. The government should be constantly reminded that the media is accountable to both the government and the opposition and by extension to Kenyans.
Hailed as the fourth arm of government, it has over time been helpful to disseminating information. In recent times, Kenyans relied on the media to educate the public on the dangers of Covid-19 and how to prevent its widespread.
Raising public awareness on key issues can best be done by the media industry to the general advantage of the public. It should be noted that under the repealed constitution, freedom of media was among the hard-fought that have constantly been under the abrasive regime under the Kanu regime.
To be fair, despite the protracted clampdown on the opposition personalities under the old constitution, freedom of media remained the most visible and reliable source of information and expression in Kenyan than the brand of politics. Political prisoners relied on the freedom of media to tell the world the actual state of the country.
There is no contestation that media stations should remain objective in their reporting and coverage of issues of national interest but coming under a barrage of attacks from the police canisters and guns should not be witnessed under the progressive legal regimes.
Freedom of media is a constitutional right that is granted under Article 34 as read together with freedom of expression and access to information under articles 33 and 35 of the constitution respectively.
These rights can only be limited in cases where media outlets of whatever nature propagate war, incite violence and hate speech. In a constitutional democracy like ours, due process should be adhered to in cases where certain persons are found to have breached the guideline for objective reporting as far as the duties and rights of media are concerned.
It should also be noted that among the key reforms that Kenyans had hoped to achieve under the 2010 Constitution was to transform the police force into a service.
Kenyans had suffered immensely under the old legal regime that had police using excess force to discharge their duties to the detriment of those who found themselves in conflict with law enforcers. Loss of innocent lives became a normal feature of the police officers discharging their duties. This should never be the case in present times.
The big question is whether our national police is sliding back into a force, despite sustained reforms.
There is an urgent need for the inspector of police to adequately guide his troops to discharge their duties within the bounds of the National police service law and desist from using excessive force on innocent citizens.
Ugly scenes of police officers engaging members of the public in brutal manner can easily aggravate the situation even as we call on the opposition to slow down and engage with the government.
Nakhurenya Eric is a lawyer and public policy consultant