President William Ruto denies plot to shut down media over demos

Standard Group Journalists Timon Abuna (2nd Left) with others who were attacked by police when covering Azimio leader Raila Odinga during an anti-government protest on March 30, 2023. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

President William Ruto has assured that the government will not shut down the media.

This came hours after the Kenya Media Sector Working Group said there was a plot to shut down the broadcast media and internet ahead of the anti-government protests on Monday, April 3.

Addressing the nation at State House Nairobi on Sunday, the President reiterated that his government will support media freedom.

“Take it from me Kenya has come a long way. The era of switching off this or, that is way behind us. I have said we will support the right of the media to carry out its function, you have our absolute support, and irrespective of how biased you are against us we will support you to do whatever it is you are doing.

“But I am sure if we exchanged positions, if you were standing where I am standing, you would have switched off the media but we will not,” he said.

Kenya Media Sector Working Group had warned that the planned shutdown of the media will plunge the nation into “information darkness.”

Speaking at a hotel in Maanzoni, Machakos county yesterday, Kenya Editors Guild president Churchill Otieno criticised plans to shut down the media saying it will deny the free flow of information to the public.

“We have received reports of plans to shut down the broadcast media and the internet and throw the country into information darkness ahead of tomorrow’s (today) demonstrations. This will be most ill-advised and a grievous assault on Kenyan democracy because it denies the citizens and the public their right to information,” Otieno said.

He warned that if the police attack journalists covering the demonstrations and damage their equipment, they will hold peaceful protests on Wednesday.

Otieno called on all actors in Kenya to stop profiling and attacking journalists. 

“Let them know that we will issue them with our notice of countrywide protests should any of us be hurt,” he said.

“If the police will attack journalists covering the demonstrations and damage their equipment we shall personally sue the Inspector General of Police,” said Kenya Union of Journalists secretary general Erick Oduor.

Citing last Thursday’s incident that he said documented more than 20 cases of attacks and violations against journalists, including harassment, arbitrary arrests, and physical attacks, the Editors Guild President demanded that the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), the Inspector General of Police and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) ensure accountability for all threats and violence against journalists through impartial, prompt, thorough and independent investigations.

The Kenya Media Sector Working Group also demanded that the government commits to compensating journalists who were attacked and injured by the police, including paying for their medical treatment and replacing damaged or lost equipment, failure to which media houses will consider giving a blackout to all government events.

“We call upon them to bring to book the perpetrators behind attacks while ensuring access to effective remedies and compensation to the victims,” Otieno said.

The group gave the DPP a seven-day ultimatum to deliver a statement on the status of the investigations and prosecution of those culpable. 

“We also ask Ipoa to update the nation on the status of the investigation of police brutality against journalists,” said Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) executive director Patience Nyange.

The group also asked media houses to ensure there are clear safety and protection protocols before they deploy journalists to cover situations that are potentially violent as has been witnessed in the past two weeks.

“We take great exception in the profiling of the media and blunt threats by the Deputy President, the Prime Cabinet Secretary, and the Inspector General of the Police.

“Such sentiments coming from offices with the prime responsibility of protecting the media are shocking and unfortunate. We call upon all actors in Kenya to stop profiling and attacking journalists as an attack on journalists is an attack on our democracy,” Otieno said.

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