Ensure safety of journalists during electioneering
As the country gears up to next year’s General Election, the conversation around media preparedness has taken the centre stage.
The role of the media in agenda setting, oversight, civic education and general awareness creation during this time cannot be overemphasized.
And just like in the prevailing Covid-19 situation, the media will be expected to be a reference point for facts, critical debates and framing on election issues.
Journalists and media practitioners will be expected to stay at the frontline and, therefore, no effort should be spared to ensure the media is well equipped to play its role in the national exercise.
Evidently, the industry is awake to this fact judging from ongoing debate among industry leaders under the aegis of the Kenya Media Sector Working Group to ensure the media is not caught off guard especially in light of gaps identified in the 2017 and 2013 elections.
Some of the issues identified include capacity building among journalists on election reporting, the rule of law during elections, access and provision of information on elections as well as safety and protection of journalists.
The conversation taking place outside the newsroom where industry leaders are engaged in collaborative efforts with other duty bearers to establish mutually beneficial relationships in the period leading up to, during and post election is impressive.
However, the efforts of industry patrons may not achieve maximum impact if newsroom managers, media owners and journalists themselves do not hold to their end of the stick in ensuring that while they demand other duty bearers to live up to their mandates, their rights and privileges are respected and granted.
The Media Council of Kenya is privileged to have firsthand information on press freedom violations and trends on prevention, response and mitigation.
The fact that the media comes under intense pressure during elections, resulting in a spike in press freedom violations has been acknowledged by all and sundry.
This is because of the highly charged environment that journalist find themselves working in while covering activities around elections.
Duty bearers such as the police, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions have also been on the receiving end for failing to enforce sanctions against those who fan and perpetuate election violence. To reverse the trend, the media must move past pointing fingers at duty bearers.
While it is important to carry out its oversight role in ensuring the rule of law is upheld, the media itself must look internally and address existing gaps on how newsrooms and journalists approach safety and security issues in newsrooms and in the field.
One of the glaring gaps is the lack of in-house policies on safety and protection of journalists in the line of duty.
MCK has data to show that apart from a few mainstream and international newsrooms, many have been playing passive role in prevention and mitigation of attacks against their staff.
In 2013, the council led industry stakeholders in developing a 10-point charter for media owners, managers and editors to ensure journalists’ safety in the line of duty.
Some 23 media houses signed and committed to uphold the provisions of the charter that contained primary obligations of each player.
There is need to revive the guidelines, review them in light of the prevailing media environment and ensure their enforcement.
Some of the issues addressed by the charter include, risk assessment, provision of protection (physical and legal) for journalists, resource allocation to safety programmes, comprehensive security management strategies for journalists both in newsrooms and in the field.
Some of the emerging issues that may also need mainstreaming include the pandemic, psychological health, sexual harassment and misinformation.
The law mandates MCK to promote and protect the rights and privileges journalists.
While the institution has and continues to deliver on its mandate, the efforts can only succeed if there is collaboration from all stakeholders. — The writer is Manager Press Freedom, Safety and Advocacy, Media Council of Kenya