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Journalists face threats despite freedom to access information

When journalists protested in Nairobi for their press freedom after continued attacks on members of the fourth estate. [Boniface kendo, Standard]

Journalists are still facing threats and information in the course of their work, a meeting heard.

This is despite freedom of the media and access to information being enshrined in the Constitution. The threats are by state actors and non-state actors in a bid to silence journalists and dissuade them from bringing those in power to account.

At the same time, it emerged that digital technology also poses a threat to journalists.

This, stakeholders said, makes censorship easier by government agencies and political wheeler-dealers who want to suppress the truth.

“Even though Kenya has moved to position 69 from 106 in media freedom globally and the best in East Africa, journalists are still facing death threats, harassment and intimidation from state and non-state actors who want to silence them,” said Rachel Ombaka, the vice chairperson of Association of Media Women in Kenya.

Ms Ombaka who spoke at a city hotel during the International Day for Universal Access to Information said investigative journalism bears the brunt of state capture, with female journalists being the most targeted.

This year’s theme was Artificial Intelligence, e-Governance and Access to Information.

“Attacks on women are highly gendered physically and sexually to silence them. Despite operating in a disrupted environment, the media is a key player that bears a major responsibility in advocating increased access to information,” said Ms Ombaka

According to Sheila Masinde, the Executive Director at Transparency International Kenya, access to information is a fundamental right for everyone and should not be curtailed by anyone under article 35 of the constitution.

Ms Masinde said without freedom of the press, there is no freedom and that democracy is killed by those in power, adding that despite the tremendous progress made, there is no comprehensive policy to make the right to access to information work.

“Public officers are not proactively releasing information to media and the general public and instead prefer to employ threats and intimidation to journalists from saying the truth, entrench corruption and curtail democracy,” said Masinde

Media Council of Kenya Chief Executive David Omwoyo said intimidation of journalists was a setback to the growth of the media space.

Omwoyo also said digital technology was making journalists easy targets for suppression of the truth.

Government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna, who was representing Broadcasting PS Esther Koimett, said as much as Article 35 of the Constitution provides access to information, journalists are limited to the kind of information they can access.