Let us face it, journalists and media practitioners in Kenya have such a great influence on our public affairs that it will be foolhardy not to acknowledge the same. The recent weeks in our country have been very distressing for members of the Fourth Estate. The brutal terror that has been meted out on the journalists while covering the weekly demonstrations in Nairobi, Kisumu and Migori deserves condemnation.
Years gone by, journalists rightly protested persistent attacks against them and the apparent muzzling of their right to free expression. In response to what was then perceived as continuous harassment, threats and assaults directed towards them as individuals and to their noble profession, they peaceably downed their tools and demanded that their rights to do their work be respected. During their 2016 peaceful and quiet demonstration in major cities and towns in the country, their clarion call was, "Journalism is a profession and not a crime”. The echoes from the past are once again playing out and simmering, if the physical and emotional hurt the journalists have experienced covering the twice weekly demonstrations is anything to go by.
Rewind to 2020 and the onset of Covid-19 measures and restrictions saw the Kenyan broadcast and print journalists bear the brunt of harassment as they carried out the assignment of providing Kenyans with the much-needed information on the pandemic. Suffice it to say, media were very critical and all-important cog to deliver the much-needed public information in fighting the pandemic.
The rights provided for in our constitution guarantee unrestricted press freedom. The enjoyment of media freedom is clearly enshrined and anchored in the Constitution under Article 34 on the freedom of the media and Article 35 on access to information. Freedom of expression is therefore, an enabling right and limiting it in media work means a limitation of other rights within the Constitution and other written laws. The rights and freedoms of media and journalists are not only secured under our constitution, but also flow from the government’s voluntary commitments to the various regional and international treaties and conventions that place a duty on the State to protect the freedom of expression and independence of the media.
All accredited journalists must enjoy their rights to safety, security, dignity and above all life. Journalists must not become the target of restraint in the course of their fundamental duties and accountability to the public as they report on the goings-on in the country. After all is said and done and at the dawn of a new day, Kenyans will seek to access information - and rightly so. Therefore, security agents and civilians must accord the journalists due respect and avoid attacking them in their line of duty. It is evidently clear, that journalists are continually finding themselves in precarious situations where the security officers and demonstrators view them as adversaries in the course of their duties rather than purveyors of public information.
Mr Kabiru is Assistant Director and Head of Public Affairs and Communication, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights