Nairobi, Wednesday, April 8, 2020 For Immediate Release
The attention of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has been drawn to an unfortunate trend of harassment and intimidation of the media practitioners in the course of their work of providing coverage on the goings-on of the current COVID 19 pandemic in our country. KNCHR makes this statement to express its displeasure and concern at the intimidation and harassment being meted on broadcast and print journalists during their noble assignments of providing Kenyans with the much needed information on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our Government has reiterated that the fight towards the containment of the COVID- 19 disease calls for the concerted efforts of all Kenyans and as a Commission we are supportive of all its initiatives and the call for the observance of all the measures already in place. In all these efforts the media is a very critical and an important cog to deliver the much needed results of fighting this pandemic.
So far cases of media harassment and intimidation by law enforcement officials have been brought to the fore and include the physical harassment of a Mombasa based NTV Journalist Peter Wainaina, harassment of Weru TV journalist Gregory Muriithi in Meru, arrest of Citizen TV journalists, John Wanyama and Charles Kerecha in Eldoret and the summoning of two Nakuru based Standard Group journalists - Julius Chepkwony and Daniel Chege over stories pertaining to the curfew and lockdown due to the novel Corona virus. In the latter case, there has been a bid to coerce the journalists disclose their sources of information. All these instances smirk intimidation, harassment and threats to members of the fourth estate. Media etiquette all over the world is succinct when it comes to the protection of news sources. Further calling out of these journalists instead of their respective publishers exposes them to grave danger and compromises their safety and security.
During this period of COVID-19 disease crisis access to accurate information can mean the difference between life and death. That is why right now, journalists in our country are working round the clock to make sure the citizens in the communities where they are reporting from are well informed as the COVID-19 virus ricochets through our country, our cities and towns and our families.
It is especially in times like these that collaboration between various government agencies and the media can help. It is evidently clear that the media is supportive of the government’s efforts to combat the pandemic. 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 secure environment for the enjoyment of this right. This environment should and can only be provided by the State, through its agents, as the principal duty bearer.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights re-emphasizes that the rights provided for in our Constitution guarantee unrestricted press freedom. KNCHR reiterates that the enjoyment of media freedom is clearly stipulated and anchored in the Constitution under Article 34 on the freedom of the media and Article 35 on access to information. Freedom of expression is an enabling right and limiting it in media work means limitation of other rights within the Constitution and other written laws.
The journalists must equally therefore enjoy their rights to dignity, privacy and life. Journalist must not become the target of restraint in the course of their fundamental duties and accountability to the public.
Article 32 (2) emphasizes that the State shall not exercise control over or interfere with any person engaged in broadcasting, the production or circulation of any publication or the dissemination of information by any medium or penalize any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination.
The rights and freedoms of media and journalists are not only secured under our Constitution but also flow from our Government’s voluntary commitments under the African Union and United Nations. Under the various treaties and conventions, Kenya is duty bound to protect freedom of expression and independence of the media. The Commission further wishes to remind the State of its most recent undertaking at the international level before the Human Rights Council in January 2020, where it committed to ensure safety of journalist as well as guarantee the freedoms of expression, press, association and peaceful assemblies and to ensure attacks against journalists and human rights defenders are properly investigated.
Furthermore, Sustainable Development Goal No. 16, an agenda the Republic of Kenya has actively supported, calls on States to secure the right to access information and safety of journalists.
Until we see the rights of journalist protected, KNCHR shall not relent in its pursuit for media freedom in Kenya. As a nation, we must demand that the members of the fourth estate feel secure to carry out their duties without intimidation and coercion especially during this period that the Government is uniting the country in the fight against the novel Corona virus.
Dr. Bernard Mogesa, PhD, CPM
Secretary to The Commission/Chief Executive Officer