20 May 2019

Kenya: Tana River Assembly on Spot for Barring Media From Chambers

The Tana River County Assembly has been condemned for barring journalists from directly observing and covering its proceedings for six months now.

In November 2018, County Clerk Justin Nkaduda gave strict orders blocking journalists from accessing the chambers or the public gallery.

To date, the orders haves not been lifted despite pleas from various media bodies.

Journalists have been trying to access the chambers but security agencies have been blocking them, citing the orders from the clerk.

INSTRUCTIONS

"We have been directed by the sergeant-at-arms not to allow members of the press into the assembly unless they receive special invitation letters from the clerk. Our job is to implement what we have been instructed to do," said one of the security officers at the assembly hall when Daily Nation tried to access the chambers.

Mr Nkaduda issued the orders after MCAs engaged in a fight which saw one of them pulling out a knife, threatening to stab a colleague.

A journalist covering the chaos was assaulted and his phone confiscated by one of the MCA's security guards and all files deleted before the phone was returned.

The assembly has since blamed journalists of making a "big issue" out of the incident, hence barring them from covering any proceedings at the county assembly.

FORCIBLY EJECTED

Since then, journalists were informed that their presence was not important in the assembly and no one is allowed to cover its proceedings. Whoever tries to access the assembly buildings is forcibly ejected by security guards.

No proper reason has ever been given for the action against journalist and no letter has ever been served to give directions on the matter.

Efforts to seek audience from the county assembly speaker have never borne fruit.

The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) has raised concerns over the issue, saying that it has been following up the matter since November last year but no substantive explanation has been given.

RECORDED STATEMENTS

MCK Deputy CEO and Programmes Manager Victor Bwire said a report has been done on the matter and the right channel will be followed to address it.

Mr Bwire said a number of journalists have recorded statements after being beaten and roughed up while trying to access the assembly.

"We visited the county assembly in a bid to address the matter but since we left the status quo remained. We plan to visit the county soon since there are some government officials in the assembly who are misusing their powers," said Mr Bwire.

He added, "It is against the law to block a journalist from accessing any public office and the act is unacceptable as it contravenes press freedom and access to information which is enshrined in the Constitution."

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