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Doing investigative stories is not a crime as DCI claims

By Irungu Houghton | April 24th 2021

Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters.[Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

The negative reaction by the National Police Service to the Citizen TV’s #SilahaMtaani investigative documentary into criminal use of police guns, uniforms and handcuffs was highly regrettable. The incident has proliferated into a public relations disaster as Kenyans, elected representatives, media and human rights organisations are now raising free media concerns, days before World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd . How could this have been handled differently?

The 26-minute Guns Galore #SilahaMtaani documentary is highly sensational. A year of undercover work delivered names, locations and documented sales of police uniforms, handcuffs, pistols, and semi-automatic rifles to our prime-time television. Predictably, the documentary trended on social media for several hours. Over-excited netizens went further to suggest what entire police vans and stations might also cost.

The response of the National Police Service was swift. Within 48 hours, the head of Directorate of Criminal Investigations flanked by top investigative officers convened an equally dramatic press conference. Covered live by Citizen TV and other major television stations, the police team patiently displayed police service weapons and described armoury safety procedures. They refuted the allegation that the weapons aired belonged to the Police Service and complained that they had not been given the right of reply. If the press conference ended here it would have been an excellent example of public accountability. The public was informed on the police side of the story, learned volumes on gun safety procedures and the importance of right of reply. The presser then took a left turn.

The DCI proceeded to declare that the documentary was designed to humiliate the National Police Service and that he would be summoning journalists. The next day, armed police officers assigned to Royal Media Services offices were withdrawn without explanation. It is baffling how both the officer accused under the pseudonym “Hessy wa Dandora” and the Police Service could both be simultaneously and publicly angry with Citizen TV.

RMS is a large broadcasting house. Its two television stations and fourteen radio stations have dominated news and entertainment from the two decades. Given the security risks involved in investigative documentaries, a point made by the Director himself, it is unacceptable that police protection services could be removed at this point.

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Committee congratulated the Foreign Affairs Ministry led by Cabinet Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba on their submissions last year. They also encouraged the Government to lift any freedom of expression restrictions, protect journalists from all forms of harassment and prevent any interference with the free press. Creating a safe environment for business is equally important they also noted.

The response to the documentary torpedoes public confidence and reputation nationally and internationally. Rather than hunting the messenger, the National Police Service could use the footage to apprehend the criminals and their middlemen.

Perhaps State House and Interior Ministry can intervene to de-escalate the situation, re-assure the public that investigative journalism is welcome and reverse the decision to leave RMS staff, equipment and office exposed to violent criminals and rogue officers hiding under pseudonyms. Like a pair of scissors needs two blades, violent crime management needs both investigative journalism and investigative policing.

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