On 20 January, two journalists of the Nation Media Group, Dennis Okeyo and John Otanga were physically assaulted by General Service Unit officers while they were covering the riots in Kibera. The officers confiscated their camera memory cards. Two days earlier, journalists from Royal Media Services were denied access to the Moi Avenue Primary School polling center where TNA party nominations were taking place. The media house’s owner S.K. Macharia is supporting Cord party presidential candidate, Raila Odinga.
These are just two cases of violence against journalists. After recording 16 incidents of media harassments this year, the Media Council has even established an emergency number 0724346744 to assist journalists facing danger.
Condemnations for these unfortunate acts against journalists have come from many quarters. Article XIX called for tough action against those who do not respect media freedom. Henry Maina, the organization’s Director for East Africa, called on political parties to denounce violence carried out by their supporters, respect media freedom and recognize the important role journalists play in ensuring the flow of information during the election process.
Articles 34 and 35 of the Constitution guarantee access to information. But the provisions will be tested as journalists examine the credentials and track record of candidates running for various positions. The search for truth should however not be compromised by any party.
“The people will believe what the media tells them they believe,” said George Orwell. This statement is what journalists should keep in the back of their minds as they go about their work. But they should be guided by the maxim that no story is worth dying for.
It will be difficult for some journalists to report from some areas, as evidenced from the Royal Media incident, but this is where the call from Article XIX should be enforced. Media houses should make it their business to protect their staff by tasking security measures. At the minimum they should identify hotspots and take precaution.
Journalism is a risky and competitive profession. All journalists want to do stories that distinguish them in society and among their peers but the search for an exclusive can be costly.
But journalists have the paramount obligation of ensuring they are safe. Still the government through the police should provide security to journalists even though this has its challenges. The police could easy use their knowledge of what the journalists are working on to hide damming information or limit access to certain areas.