Kenyan journalists took to the streets on 8th September 2016 to demonstrate against what they called continued and increased harassment, threats, assaults and intimidation to members of the Fourth Estate. Chanting songs on solidarity with placards on their hands, journalists went through the various streets in Nairobi, Nakuru, Murang’a, Nyeri and on 21st September in Mombasa and presented their petitions to various duty bearers. Since then, journalists have continued to present their case loud and clear that indeed, this profession is under siege due to a number of factors. First, there is lethargy from the state to resolve cases of reported incidents targeting journalists. Such incidents include but not limited to criminal intimidation; stalking, physical harassment, aggressive bullying, physical assaults, death threats and even targeted assassinations that have been on the increase since 2013.
All these incidences that attract various convictions within the Criminal Procedure Code have unfortunately dragged on and in some cases no convictions have been obtained due to shoddy investigations. Second, the protests sought to sensitise the public that every attack on a professional journalist is an attack not just to the profession but fundamental freedoms protected by the Constitution unless we expect our country to descend towards another Tillian state where violence is the order of the day. Third, these protest directed attention to the duty bearers specifically the Government to take action and ensure that journalists are free and safe to practice without intimidation, coercion and any forms of physical threats especially when the Constitution provides grievance redress mechanisms through the Media Council of Kenya. Fourth and most important, Journalists sought to remind the collective Kenyan conscience that the normalization of violence especially against Scribes ushers impunity as there will be no watchdog.
As Kenyan Journalists, members of the Fourth Estate called upon their family members, relatives and friends to join them and support their course, let me try and make it very simple for everyone to understand why it is so crucial that the plight of Kenyan journalists is highlighted, not just in the Kenyan setting but also internationally. A journalist is someone’s beloved child, someone’s son or daughter, someone’s husband or wife, someone’s dad or mother, someone’s sponsor or receiving sponsorship (morals aside). These journalists belong to a given family and have a role they are carrying out. Some of them are the sole providers, they work every day to risk their lives to ensure their families are have something to eat and bills are settled. Most journalists ideally venture into this profession because to them, this is a noble calling. These are Kenyans in search of the truth. These journalists equally enjoy the rights to dignity, privacy and life and must therefore be protected at all times.
Journalists and media establishments have a duty to inform the public and the public has a right to receive information and this requires an enabling and secured environment to optimally enjoy this right. This environment should and can only be provided by the state as the duty bearer. The freedom being exercised by the media is clearly stipulate and anchored in Article 21, Article 33, Article 34, Article 35, Article 36 and it is beyond the dictates of the state. Though these provisions are clearly articulated in our Constitution, it is important to re-emphasize that the rights provided for in the Constitution and in the various International instruments ratified by Kenyan Government guarantees responsible and unrestricted press freedom.
The lie being peddled by bodies mandated by protect journalists in Kenya as well as the various media houses saying that journalists are protected while on duty, lacks the very understanding that once a journalist, always a journalist and that journalists can be targeted even when not on official duty. Think of investigative and undercover journalists. Their job is a risky job. At what time do you draw a line and say, at this particular hour, this journalist was not on official duty?
Attempts to attack journalists due to what some perceive as uncomfortable reporting is a clear indication that certain individuals are yet to reconcile themselves to the changed environment ushered in by the Constitution and relevant media legislation. But here lies the challenge. Those that have assaulted and intimidated journalists have rarely been brought to books. Very little tangible efforts have been pursued towards the protection of journalists
“If Kenya is to be a model society that respects the rule of law and order, attain the status of a free country as the Constitution seeks, Kenyan citizens should never be subject to the whims of any person, or institution, which purports to be law unto itself. Every Kenyan, including members of the Fourth Estate, should have their constitutional rights protected.
As Kenya progresses as a country, let’s progress in our thinking and make it clear that as journalists leave their houses in peace every morning, we need them back home at the end of the day in one piece. This is because; journalist’s lives too, matter!