It was like a scene out of a movie, watching the events unfold on television seemed more like drama; (“Nikama ndrama nikama vindio”) a phrase that has become quite popular with Kenyans is what I can use to describe the events that were unfolding before my eyes. At a time when most people in the city are asleep, one media house was about to receive an unexpected guest. On May 2, 2006 at 11.15p.m the then Kenya’s First Lady stormed Nation Media Group offices. Accompanying her was the then Police boss Mr. King’ori Mwangi. There was no doubt who was in charge here. The First Lady demanded answers as to why reporters were publishing false information about her and her family. She further faulted the media for reporting malicious allegations against her and undermining her husband’s leadership. At one point she is alleged to have slapped one cameraman who was filming the unfolding event.
A year later in early 2006, Kenyans woke up to another rude awakening of media attack. This time masked men alleged to be government security forces had raided Kenya Television Network offices. The raid left behind a trail of damage, loss of property and fear of intimidation. Appearing to defend their action the Internal Security Minister at the time the late Hon. Michuki, gave a stern warning, “if you rattle a snake, prepare to be bitten” a phrase that was not taken kindly by a cross section of the public. The explanation given to justify the raid was that the raid was a matter of state security.
Moral of the story, media beware, you never know who or when someone will come knocking at your door.
Many governments continue to hide behind the ‘state security’ facade as justification for media attacks. The big question that lingers on is how free is press freedom today?
As we mark 2014 World PressFreedom Day, lets pay tribute to all those journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty, many who are being held hostage and those detained in various prisons around the world for publishing or reporting uncomfortable truths.
Notably is that most at risk journalists are those who cover political issues, human rights and corruption related cases. In Kenya ethnicity and party politics largely influence public perception. On several occasions, media houses have been alleged to be partisan to one side or another.
Despite being ranked 90 out of 180 countries, a huge drop from last year’s position 71 of the World Press Freedom Index, Kenya is still quite ahead of many of its African counterparts. We have been home to many journalists who flee their home countries for fear of indictment, intimidation, torture and sometimes death threats. A report from Aljazeera relay statistics from the Global Watchdog a US based human rights based organization, that press freedom has hit its lowest in the last decade.
During the 2014 celebrations, Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta reminded journalists that it was their responsibility to check their facts and check again and that there is no such thing as absolute freedom without responsibility. He faulted the journalists for breaking their professional code of ethics citing some stories and headlines that he deemed damaging and could have otherwise been avoided through due diligence.
As I conclude, its pretty obvious that the Forth Estate as media is sometimes called plays a fundamental role in keeping the public aware of what’s happening around the world, holding governments accountable to their citizens in fulfilling the promises made and agreements signed at the national, regional and international levels. I agree with the UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon when he says that free media is crucial to the post 2015 Millennium Development Goals. Stifling media is detrimental to development for all of us.