11 December 2018

Kenya: Media Regulator Decries Assault of Journalists By Government Actors

Nairobi — The media regulator has condemned the recent attack of three journalists in the line of duty in what is an emerging trend that threatens press freedom.

In a statement released on Monday, the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) denounced the assault of Nation Television reporter Jesse Chenge by a national government administrator on Saturday as an affront to media freedom.

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Chenge was reportedly attacked by Sasur location Chief in Mt Elgon while pursuing a story on misappropriation of public funds at Tororei Primary School.

Standard newspaper's James Omoro filed a similar complaint on October 2 after being attacked by police officers within the Homa Bay County Assembly.

Two other journalists were assaulted by police officers in Bondo prior to the Homa Bay incident.

In its statement, MCK warned that the incident violated the spirit and the letter of the Constitution which is also enshrined in the Access to Information Act (2016).

MCK CEO David Omwoyo said the council would do everything in its power to safeguard press freedom.

The access to information Act 2016 guarantees the right by journalist and citizens to access public information held in trust by government officials. Any attempts to inhabit these rights contravenes the law," Omwoyo said.

He urged persons with legitimate concerns to address them through proper channels for resolution within the laid down framework.

The freedom and independence of the media is guaranteed under Article 34 of the Constitution (2010) which forbids the State or its actors from exercising control over or interfering with journalists and media outlets they work for.

Article 34 (2) (b) further forbids the State from penalizing any persons for views or content any media outlet publishes.

The law also requires that the media is free and independent from political or commercial interests.

Media freedoms are only subject to licensing procedures regulating airwaves and distribution of signals.

Under Article 34 (2) State-owned media is required to maintain editorial independence, impartiality, and fairness in reporting.

The recent attacks on journalists have cast a shadow on an otherwise enviable record Kenya has maintained as far as safeguarding press freedoms is concerned.

In March this year, police officers at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport clobbered journalists covering the return of deported Opposition activist Miguna Miguna.

Miguna who was deported after failed attempts to prosecute him over treason charges after he arbitrarily installed former Prime Minister Raila Odinga as the People's President on January 30.

In the period culminating to Miguna's deportation, the High Court had issued successive orders directing the State to produce the self-declared National Resistance Movement General in court, orders the government disobeyed citing failure by parties to serve.

Justice George Odunga would later find Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi, Immigration Principal Secretary Gordon Kihalangwa, and National Police Service Inspector General Joseph Boinnet in contempt of court, fining the three Sh200,000 each.

The controversial passage of the fuel tax in the National Assembly in September also raised concerns over adherence to Article 34 of the Constitution after the Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit temporarily suspended live coverage of proceedings amid claims of a rigged vote.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi upheld a controversial vote by acclamation allowing taxation of fuel at the rate of eight per cent, a motion that had been fiercely opposed by members across the political divide.

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