Attack of media on election coverage in bad taste and against the law

Reporting of electoral proceedings is at the core of ensuring transparency of the process and thus, any form of interference is not only in bad taste but also against the law.

Media houses in Kenya did a wonderful job as far as coverage of the repeat presidential election is concerned. A lot of logistics was involved in live coverage of electoral proceedings across the country, which were sentimental in keeping Kenyans and the world at large informed on the voting process.

When the message is bad...

In certain instances, journalists had a hard time reporting amidst rowdy and noisy youths in parts of Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay and Siaya counties where voting failed to take place as a result of security concerns. Journalists were caught up in running battles between police and protestors, with some reporting injuries in the process.

Quite disappointing however, were reports of various interference by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) officials, politicians and the police, who for one reason or another, did not want the media to capture the unfolding events.

In Mandera East Constituency tallying centre for example, the county elections coordinator barred members of the press from taking photos of Forms 34 A received from various polling stations, citing that such a provision does not exist. When journalists stood their ground, police officers were called and ejected reporters out of the tallying centre.

In Migori town, a Standard Group journalist was attacked at his home and his memory card taken by the police. Similarly, NTV’s reporter Enock Sikolia reported that policemen forcefully took the same from his cameraman and they were yet to get it back.

MP behaving badly?

In Kandara constituency, area Member of Parliament Alice Wahome was captured insulting and physically attacking the Returning Officer for what she alleges was failure by the RO to listen to her input before finalizing on Form 34B at the constituency tallying centre. At the end of the footage on realising that she is being captured on camera, the MP is seen confronting the person recording who says she is from the media.

Freedom and independence of the media as well as access to information is provided for in the Kenyan Constitution 2010 under Articles 34 and 35 respectively. Neither the State, the police, political leaders nor any Kenyan is thus allowed to interfere with  media operations in the country for as long as they do not break other sections of the law.

While marking the World Press Freedom this year, IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati called on media practitioners to cover elections credibly and accurately. The refusal of the county elections coordinator in Mandera was thus not only against the Kenyan Constitution but also a directive from his own boss, the IEBC chairman and should thus be prosecuted.

The media is, for the populace, a source of information on the proceedings across the country not just on electoral matters. Despite continuous defense and cover-up by the Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet, cases of police brutality and use of live bullets on demonstrators has been captured across the country, thanks to the sacrifice made by journalists who often work in very difficult situations to get stories out there.

In an era where fake news is predominantly taking over the airwaves on social media, professional media outlets remain as the source of credible information. Interfering with their operations thus not only serves to deny the public access to rightful information but also gives an avenue for scaremongers and speculators to report false narratives which may then be taken by the public as true.

The Media Council of Kenya, the national institution charged with setting media standards and ensuring compliance with those standards as set out in Article 34(5), must now come forward and ensure that cases of intimidation or attack of journalists during the repeat presidential elections are investigated and those involved are brought to book.

The media is the mirror of the society and should be allowed to operate freely without intimidation or interference.

Mr Marenya is a Freelance journalist [email protected]