Attacks on journalists in Kenya should worry us all

William Janak

NAIROBI: Concerns over the safety and security of journalists continue to increase following reports of attacks and intimidation by different actors. The issue has always come to the fore during political rallies and in the countdown to elections. Less than two weeks ago, two journalists were reportedly roughed up in Western and their equipment damaged. The increasing hostility by political players against the media is unhealthy, both for now and as we move into the heightened political period.

It is clear that, increasingly, journalists are in danger from political players, security agencies and other actors and the situation could worsen as we approach the General Election. Journalists have more often than not said they face serious threats to their safety and security. A disturbing admission by journalists is the extent of their capture by partisan political interests on the ground, who include both current elected leaders and their rivals. A just released study by UNESCO titled: “Supporting Safety and Security of Journalists in Kenya”, an assessment based on the body’s journalists safety indicators, has grim statistics about media practitioners’ safety and security situation. The study, published this year indicates more than 60 journalists, seven of them women, “were assaulted, attacked, harassed and intimidated in the course of their duty” during the study period.

The police were responsible for 11 of the cases, while state officials accounted for seven incidents. Politicians had five cases while mobs had six cases attributed to them. These, the study says, represent the most potent threat against journalists. The study records the April 30, 2015 killing of John Kituyi, the editor and founder of Weekly Mirror in Eldoret. Another study released in November 2015 by Article 19 “Silenced and Intimidated”, also gives disturbing trends and statistics. The study says 58 male journalists and 7 female ones suffered various forms of violations. The categories of the violations included murder, physical attacks, threats through phone calls and text messages, legal threat, arrested, and or charged with criminal and civil defamation and convictions for “misuse of telecommunications gadget. The policy and legal environment is not entirely friendly. The media industry virtually lost the case challenging the constitutionality of the Media Act and Kenya Information and Communications Amendment Act, both of 2013, which have various anti-media freedom provisions. The government has not done much to protect journalists. As we move into the electioneering period, the media must collectively do more to secure the safety and security of journalists.