Since 1902

State should stop intimidating media

Having failed to secure powers to sieve media content by awarding a licence to a single company for digital broadcast, the Government seems to be staging a fresh threat on media space.

The proposed security laws will infringe on the rights of journalists and curtail the public’s right to access information. The assumption that civil liberties are the obstacle in the fight against terrorism is wrong.

It is common knowledge that failure to enforce laws caused by corruption and incompetence in the security agencies remains the biggest obstacle in the war against insecurity.

Kenya once witnessed a dark age in media. Citizens who failed to dance to the tune of the government of the day never had voices to tell their stories. So dark was the age that those who stood for public interest were taken away and tortured in Nyayo Housechambers.

Their crime was that of revealing the rot in the government of the day. Those who survived the nightmare still live on with the scars. It’s common knowledge that most governments want the media to portray them as no-nonsense workers even at the expense of the suffering public.

By proposing a hefty fine for publication of information it describes as “one likely to cause fear and alarm to the general public”, the Government seems to be telling the public it is better to lie to the public than be factual.

Think about the Deputy President, William Ruto telling the public that the State had warned people to vacate quarry.

What about the several times the Government has denied that no citizen had died of hunger when it was clear that people were starving to death? And the disturbing moments when the police deliberately give incorrect number of victims in any disaster just to save its image.

Who will speak for such people? The public has the right to correct information, especially after the head of state made it clear that security starts with them. How will they make necessary plans to be safe when they cannot trust some sentiments from the Government?

There are times the media are the first in a crime scene. Sometimes they obtain first-hand information from the public. It therefore remains an important pillar in reporting factual information not just to be used by the public but by the security apparatus too.

The media are the most trusted public institution. Investigative journalism serves to expose and correct rot in the society. If the government knows it is playing its role as stipulated in the Constitution, it has nothing to worry about.

Like a Standard columnist stated, the problem in Kenya is not really a lack of laws to deal with terrorism or other crimes. The problem lies with lack of enforcement. Our major undoing is not the absence of laws but rather the ability of the State to ensure compliance.

We have had credible exposes on illicit drugs, how illegal guns enter the country, the scoundrel preachers and poaching of elephants just to name a few. It is usually disturbing that instead of the Government partnering with media to do a thorough follow-up of such stories, the media is threatened.

It is time the Government looked at media as patriots, taxpayers and an institution that is willing to partner with them to ensure sound running of the country. Only incompetent and corrupt officials should view the media as an irritable pimple on the far end of their backs.

The Bill gives the National Intelligence Service (NIS) unlimited powers to tap telephones without a court order. Intercepting a person’s private communication is obviously wrong unless with the permission of a court of law.

This amendment infringes on the right to privacy and it is not just an attack to the media but general public. And after empowering NIS to “do anything necessary to preserve national security”, we may witness another raid similar to the one that was carried at the Standard.

In the war against terrorism, let the Government face corruption and incompetency head-on. The laws we already have are enough to transform Kenya into a better and safer nation if only they are implemented as outlined. Draconian bills will only result into a rebellious society.