Journalists must protect their space in new year

Friday, January 3rd, 2020 08:01 |
Journalist on duty.

Much has been said about 2019. The cost of living was high, the country’s public debt went over the roof and social ills were at an all-time high. In short, Wanjiku barely scraped through. 

Things were not rosy for journalists either, locally and globally. The industry also lost some hardworking scribes in the year, including Daniel Chemjor of K24 TV, Eric Oloo (The Star) and Soni Methu (CNN). May their souls rest in peace.

While no journalist was jailed in Kenya, several were arrested in their line of duty but later released. Dozens were threatened while others faced arbitrary arrests, delegitimisation by attack on the media’s credibility, physical attacks, harassment, online trolling, loss of work equipment among other issues.

Last year, some Standard Group journalists were clobbered by high school students while investigating  the disappearance of a student. The matter is still in court. 

Elsewhere, two broadcast  journalists Brian Ondeng (KNA) and Geoffrey Oguna (Radio Nam Lolwe) in Siaya were dragged to court on baseless accusations of obstructing police from doing their work. The two were acquitted last month after the judge found that the prosecution failed to meet the threshold of willful obstruction of the police according to Section 103 of the Police Act. 

Several journalists have had to flee their homes after facing threats over stories they published. 

In the past year, media houses and individual journalists have been targets of unwarranted attacks, all meant to intimidate and incite audiences against media. 

Media house revenues have also been shrinking, which saw hundreds of journalists lose their jobs.

All these challenges only helped to shrink the media space and relative freedom that the Kenyan press has been enjoying.

In neighbouring Tanzania, the situation is no different.  Investigative journalist Eric Kabendera has been in detention since July, charged with money laundering, tax evasion and leading organised crime. His detention is the latest of President John Magufuli-led government’s crackdown on the fourth estate. 

Tanzanians have witnessed the closure of newspapers, introduction of laws curbing digital media spaces, and proposed measures criminalising the collection of data for anyone without official authorisation. 

And as the world celebrated World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2019, the Uganda Communications Commission ironically directed 13 radio and TV stations to suspend their news editors, producers and heads of programming over coverage of politician Bobi Wine’s arrest.

The incidences cited are just but the tip of an iceberg, but they are a significant pointer that the environment is growing increasingly unfavourable for journalists to discharge their mandate, especially of holding those in power to account.

In seeking solutions, journalists, media enterprises and practitioners must not only look outside for remedies, but also take an inward approach. 

When attacked, harassed or intimidated for instance, journalists must report the cases to the relevant authorities such as the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), police and newsroom managers to facilitate the process of seeking justice. 

MCK has, for example, spearheaded stakeholder efforts for the setting up of a National Mechanism for the Safety and Security of Journalists. The success of the mechanism whose framework is anchored on coordination by all actors in responding to attacks against journalists, is dependent on the cooperation of each individual party. 

Media owners and newsroom managers should take the lead in protecting their staff. Innovation and diversification of revenue streams are not optional if media enterprises have to remain afloat and profitable, to avoid unnecessary job losses. Winning and retaining public confidence requires that we remain  professional as journalists and always pursue public interest. 

Journalists must strictly adhere to the Code of Conduct in their line of work. 

The importance of verification of facts in the era of misinformation and disinformation cannot be overemphasised. 

Let us remain vigilant to emerging threats and embrace continuous industry dialogue for a coordinated approach in protecting and developing media space in 2020!

—The writer is the manager, Press Freedom and Ethics at Media Council of Kenya

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