Kenya: MCK Asks Wangamati to Respect Press Freedom After Journalist 'Threatened'

The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) has asked Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati to respect press freedom following allegations that his administration had threatened journalists.

Journalists in Bungoma held protests on Monday, claiming one of them had been threatened with death.

Led by their chairman John Makuba, the journalists claimed Royal Media Services correspondent Jimmy Simiyu was threatened on Saturday and that their lives were in danger.

Mr Simiyu had published two stories - one about a fracas that occurred at a burial ceremony in Tuti Marakaru Ward in the presence of Mr Wangamati, and the other accusing the governor of flouting Covid-19 regulations.

It is alleged that after the burial, Mr Wangamati, through his aide Anthony Wamalwa's phone, called Mr Simiyu and threatened him with unspecified action regarding the chaos at the funeral in Tuuti village.

The governor, Mr Simiyu said, termed the story negative and claimed it was aimed at tainting his image by portraying him as a leader who sponsors hooliganism at funerals.

MCK's demands

The incident attracted the ire of the MCK, which has demanded action from authorities.

In a statement, MCK's Chief Executive Officer David Omwoyo said: "That the governor henceforth desists from threats and respects the independence and freedom of all journalists. That the Inspector-General of Police intervenes by ensuring the matter is expeditiously investigated, with the view of bringing all those involved in the alleged violations to account. In the meantime, the police must guarantee the safety of the reporter."

Mr Omwoyo also asked Royal Media Services to investigate "claims that one of its editors was involved in the transgression and if confirmed, take disciplinary action against the said editor for interfering with the independence and freedom of the affected journalist and jeopardising his safety."

He added: "The Media Council of Kenya calls upon the public and various public governance levels, including county governments, to refrain from threatening and obstructing journalists from undertaking their lawful roles."

The council said the matter was reported at Bungoma Police Station under OB 16/13/6/21.

Sought for comment on Monday, Mr Wangamati's Communication Director Tim Machi said the governor did not threaten the reporter but sought a right of reply.

The journalists' association in Bungoma said the threats must be treated with the seriousness they deserve.

"We are not taking these threats lightly. That is why we have come to present our memorandum to the county commissioner for necessary action," Mr Makuba said.

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