Ministry threats to foreign media crude

The statement on Wednesday threatening to prosecute foreign journalists allegedly working without government-issue press cards was extremely unfortunate.

Wednesday March 13 2013

The statement on Wednesday threatening to prosecute foreign journalists allegedly working without government-issue press cards was extremely unfortunate.

In the first instance, the Ministry of Information and Communications has absolutely no legal mandate to issue press cards. Press accreditation for both local and foreign journalists is handled by the Media Council of Kenya.

If the ministry has been issuing any press cards to journalists, it has been doing so in assumed exercise of powers it does not legally possess.

Secondly, if there have been foreign journalists operating in Kenya without proper accreditation, then what is required is specific action against the individuals concerned rather than generalised warnings that will send entirely wrong signals.

The same would apply, through the Immigration Department, if there were foreign media personnel in Kenya without the requisite work permits.

In either case, there is absolutely no need for warnings that could easily be interpreted as the beginning of a crackdown against the foreign media or the start of an isolationist era.

We have had occasion in the recent past to caution against a growing tendency for intolerant officials claiming to speak for the government to issue threats and warnings.

At this specific time, just after the General Election, the threats of this nature will only send the inaccurate impression that the government-in-waiting is already putting up the ramparts against the media, free expression, open doors and the liberal democratic State.

We would not want to imagine this is the case, for the new government is not in place yet. Therefore, those threats must be withdrawn forthwith and the over-enthusiastic officials reprimanded.

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