OPINION: Attack on journalists by students shows extent of moral decadence in society

By Mwangi Maina | Tuesday, Jun 4th 2019 at 15:34
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I was perturbed when I received news that KTN journalists were violently assaulted yesterday by a group of rogue students at St Steven's Secondary School in Machakos County. In their company was a driver who was also hurt in the unfortunate turn of events.

That students could gang up and torture innocent journalists who were pursuing justice is alarming. It is even more appalling to learn that they went further to torch the car the aforementioned traveled in, almost bringing it down to ashes and destroyed equipment including a camera worth millions of shillings.

KTN's Caroline Bii, a reporter, Boniface Magana, cameraman and Emmaculate Joseph the crew driver must feel lucky to be alive but the pain and shame they were subjected to might be scars they will walk with for the rest of their lives.

There are two major things that disturb me; one is that the said journalists were following up a story of a student missing from the school. It then beats logic that students could join arms and attack the people who went to inquire about their safety and that of their comrade who is still missing. But that is not the whole story.

The bigger story is that when the journalists approached the school principal identified as one John Kyalo for an interview, he declined and allegedly incited students to chase the team away in the roughest manner. It appears Kyalo felt he would put himself in a hot seat trying to answer hard questions on the whereabouts of a form 2 student who went missing from his school and he couldn’t just take it in.

Secondly, it is a very unfortunate incident for students who would want to become journalists in future. I’d bet with you that you will not miss one or two girls in that school who will tell you that they want to be news anchors. It is then sad that the learners could welcome journalists in their school with flying sticks and stones. It is brutal, heinous and unacceptable.

Media freedom is guaranteed in article 34 of our Constitution, if the principal did not want to comment on the issue he should have just said politely and the journalists would have found their way out.

To further bring matters to perspective, article 35 (1) of the Constitution which speaks about access to information stipulates that every citizen has the right of access to “information held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom.”

There is no illegality in seeking for information through the right channels but causing bodily harm to the extent of threatening the life of an individual is a punishable offence. It betrays the spirit and letter of our Constitution and must not only be condemned but stern action taken against the perpetrators.

I am however not pleased on how past cases of attacks on journalists have been handled as many have died prematurely either because no one has been following up on them or stakeholders in the media industry have not been bold enough to seek for justice, compensation or even possible convictions.

In September 2016, Royal Media Services Julius Kariithi and his NTV counterpart James Mburu were seriously clobbered by Kakuzi company guards in Murang'a County during a demonstration by Gititu secondary school students against land grabbing. To date, the perpetrators of the heinous act have never been or even tried in a court of law.

Nationwide protests led by Kenya Union of Journalists bore no fruits, no case files were opened. Much of the blame fell on the then Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko who was accused of sleeping on his job. With a new invigorated office of the DPP under Noordin Haji, we hope that investigations will be expedited and the culprits brought to book.

Journalists must also continue to be bold while engaging the various employers, in recent cases, senior news managers in such scenarios first ask on the state of company equipment rather the victims, they forget that violence was meted and journos got assaulted. We must say no to such decisions. No story is worth a journalist’s life.

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