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Media blocked from covering Mukumu Girls' fire

 A section of the dormitory that houses over 150 students that was affected by the fire. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Several journalists who turned up to cover a fire incident at Mukumu Girls’ High School yesterday were met with hostility from teachers and students who did not want them to report the incident.

The teachers of the school in Shinyalu constituency were heard inciting their students to chant against the media presence, saying they had had enough of what they termed as “negative publicity”.

“We do not want media coverage, we do not want media coverage at this place...” these were the words of the teachers which were later echoed by their about 2,000 students while sending the press away.

The negative publicity they alleged happened when the media reported on poor sanitation condition in the school which led to mass illness and the death of four students in April and May.

It took the efforts of Shinyalu OCPD Daniel Mukumbu, his officers and Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale to educate the school staff and students on the role of the media and the need to respect the profession.

Meanwhile, the journalists stood at a distance with civilians and police officers who had responded to the fire incident that destroyed property in a dormitory that houses over 150 students. School Principal Sister Jane Mmbone said they were investigating the cause of the fire.

However, an investigation officer linked it to retaliation from the community that felt left out in the recent school board appointments.

“We have gathered that the community is unhappy as they were not considered to have a say in the appointment and selection of the board,” said the officer. “They are also bitter that the recent recruitment and employment of support staff did not have anyone coming from the community.”

The OCPD, Mr Mukumbu, said no student was injured as the fire broke out while they were in their classrooms. In April this year, the then school Principal Frida Ndolo claimed that “toxic media reporting” of the fatal food poisoning incident at the school had led to its indefinite closure.

“This is to notify you that following consultation with the Ministry of Education directors and TSC directors, it has been decided that the students break off to heal of the toxic environment already created by the media,” Ndolo said in her notice to parents and guardians dated Monday, April 3.

She was later moved from the Catholic-founded school and replaced by Jane Mmbone. Upon her appointment, Ms Mmbone sacked nine workers including Douglas Muchela Isutsa, the cook who had blown the whistle on food poisoning at the the institution.

The Commission on Administrative Justice (CAJ) - Office of the Ombudsman wrote to the school in July demanding to know whether it sacked Mr Muchela for sharing crucial information to the media.

In a letter seen by The  Standard, Chairperson of the Commission Florence Kajuju feared that Muchela was facing victimisation.

“Following media reports on the dismissal of Mr Muchela for reasons that he leaked information to the media regarding the deplorable state of affairs at the School please respond within seven days with a detailed report on the circumstances that led to the alleged dismissal...” read the letter in part.

CAJ noted that the cook, who was two years shy of retirement, acted in good faith to speak with the media even though he was not the official spokesperson of the school.

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