BWIRE: Press freedom continues to diminish despite new laws - Daily Nation

Press freedom continues to diminish despite the passage of new laws

Saturday May 2 2015

Journalists protest in Nairobi against the Media Bill on December 3, 2013. FILE PHOTO

Journalists protest in Nairobi against the Media Bill on December 3, 2013. FILE PHOTO |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By VICTOR BWIRE
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As we mark the 2015 World Press Freedom Day, a number of things are happening in Kenya relating to media that deserve a mention.

With the passing of the Media Council Act 2013, it was hoped press freedom in the country will improve, which is not happening yet.

On paper, the country has a vibrant and diverse media: 120 radio stations on air spread across the country, 43 TV stations are on air following the move from analogue to digital migration, four daily morning papers and one evening daily paper, and nearly 60 periodic publications.

The online space is also active, including periodic pressers by the President and tweets from government functionaries.

It was anticipated that the media landscape would undergo significant positive changes with the enactment of laws to actualise Articles 33, 34 and 35 of the Constitution.

Sadly, the scenario we are witnessing now is that the media is being turned from a watchdog to a lapdog and by extension a guard dog by making the work of journalists illegal or impossible.

THREATENED SPECIES

Ordinarily, any media regime should be aimed at supporting editorial independence and self-regulation, create diversity within the media, promote media literacy and education as well as putting up structures for dialogue between government and media.

If the statistics of April 2015 are anything to go by, journalists are slowly becoming a threatened species and talk about Kenya having a relatively safe space that supports press freedom will become a facade.

John Kituyi, editor and publisher of The Mirror newspaper based in Eldoret is killed by unknown assailants, Macharia Gaitho of Daily Nation is summoned by state agencies over a story the group published, K24 TV reporters are summoned by CID for questioning over coverage of the Garissa massacre, Nehemiah Okwemba of NTV and Reuben Ogacha of Citizen TV are attacked by the GSU officers while on duty, the county director of education in Kitui Pascal Makite threatens to take action against journalists who report about schools conducting holiday tuition and sends a warning SMS to Kitavi Mutua of Daily Nation, Amos Kimutai, a freelance photojournalist based in Bomet County is roughed up and injured by rioting youths following the death of their colleague while in police custody and a freelance journalist Francis Kasaya based in Bungoma is allegedly hijacked by an MP and driven out of town where he is beaten.

Kasaya is recovering in hospital.

In March, Paul Gitau of Standard, receives threats from an MP at the Coast for a story on land grabbing, John Mwangi of Citizen Radio in Narok receives threats from an AP officer while following up on a story on corruption involving the officers, Justus Ochieng of the Star is arrested and detained in Kisumu in November 2014 after doing a series of stories linking a clique of police officers to a spate of attacks on bank customers.

Police in Murang’a arrest journalists covering a press conference citing security related laws on public meetings.

PUNITIVE APPROACH

Following such and other actions, it’s safe to conclude that those in authority are largely taking a punitive approach against the media.

Everyone seems to be blaming the media for all manner of evil and some journalists seem to be succumbing to the pressure by doing largely public relations stories.

The legal environment and the mob justice approach to dealing with journalists has exposed the media to threats.

As this happens, the media fraternity, especially the associations, unions and media owners seem to be pulling in different directions in trying to survive, making them more vulnerable.

Instead of editors and the media owners worrying too much about their balance sheets, they should support unity among journalists and create structures that enhance media professionalism, accountability and welfare.

The media must work towards a common agenda and also ensure that their issues are part of the national agenda.

Laws including improving the MCK Acts, Books and Newspaper Registration Act, Defamation, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Act, Public Security Act, among others, need an urgent review to make them compliant with the Constitution.

Victor Bwire is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Programmes Manager at the Media Council of Kenya

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