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Threats on journalists shouldn’t be taken lightly

By | December 18th 2011

Whereas Kenya has made great strides since 1992 in widening the democratic space and strengthening institutions of democracy, there are still worrying trends that need to be checked.

The recent threats on journalists with Standard Group are worrying. The first was on two journalists who worked on a widely acclaimed special report on the intrigues in the intricate drug trafficking cartel. The report delved deep into the questionable deaths since the killing of drug baron Ibrahim Akasha in Amsterdam in 2000. The second was on a reporter who highlighted the goings-on in coffee wars in western Kenya that led to the death of several people.

Media professionals, the civil society, and progressive politicians have over the years fought for a free Press.

This is because the potential of any country to develop into a free society where people exercise their fundamental freedoms and have equal opportunities can easily be gauged by how free that country’s Press is.

The new Constitution envisages that Kenya would be a country where fundamental human rights are held in high esteem, freedom of the media is not only guaranteed but jealously protected. This is why the Constitution provides for freedom of expression and freedom of the media. It also provides for the right to access information the State holds.

These provisions are meant to ensure that Government becomes accountable to the people. Currently, it is almost impossible to get information held by Government, and public officers do not feel obligated to make it available. This should change and Parliament should move fast to put in place the legislation that would compel Government to give information whenever it is needed.

One would have thought that with these robust provisions in the law, the working environment for journalists would improve.

However, this does not appear to be the case. It goes to show that those who benefit from impunity are still determined to have their way. And it will not just be on the media, but on all new legislation that seeks to change the way things are done.

The Government must get to the bottom of the matter and ensure that journalists are protected from crooks who will not stop at anything to enrich themselves at the expense of the greater good.

Take the case of drug trafficking, for example: This media house has been adept at fighting the vice because it kills the youth, breaks the hearts of parents; impoverishes families, and steals husbands from their wives. It makes the poor poorer while enriching drug barons.

Because of the huge amounts of money involved, drug traffickers use their ill-earned cash to corrupt the system to get their way around through ports, airports, police stations, and courts. Among those who can fight against this vice, some have been compromised, while others have been cowed to submission, fearing for the lives. And, as the KTN special report showed, the past is littered with the bodies of those who dared to stand in their way.

In the investigations that took the reporters from Nairobi to Mombasa and Amsterdam, crucial leads were unearthed, which any serious investigator would have followed to nail the traffickers and murders. Now the lives of these reporters are in danger from unknown people.

In the second case, the reporter in Bungoma unearthed the link between Government officials and the coffee thefts from farmers who have been labouring for a long time without much returns when coffee prices were down. Now that coffee prices in the international market are at record highs, some people want to reap where they did not plant.

Wananchi count on the Government to protect them from these crooks. The Government must be serious in fighting for the weak in society. As the media, we can only highlight theses injustices, but it is the Government that has the ability to crush these injustices. For now, we call on the police to ensure these journalists are not harmed.

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