HARASSMENT OF MEDIA IN THE WAKE OF THE WESTGATE TERRORIST ATTACK
KENYA EDITORS’ GUILD STATEMENT ON HARASSMENT OF MEDIA IN THE WAKE OF THE WESTGATE TERRORIST ATTACK
The Kenya Editors’ Guild is shocked and dismayed by threats directed against the media from the Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo in relation to the coverage of the Westgate terrorist attack.
The police chief is threatening to arrest and prosecute journalists who have done nothing wrong but fulfill their primary mandate of informing Kenyans and on a matter of great national and international interest.
This mandate become even more critical in an environment where official communication from the relevant government arms, especially the security agencies, has displayed a high degree of obfuscation and misinformation that lends credence to suspicion of cover-up.
The head of police has singled out Mohammed Ali and John Alan Namu of KTN for the Jicho Pevu programme that highlighted blunders by the security agencies in the course of the Westgate operation.
We ask the two journalists to ignore any summons that might be issued in contempt of letter and spirit of the Constitutional and Statute law guarantees on media freedom.
The Inspector-General has tried to justify his outrageous threats by quoting completely out of context paragraphs from the constitution under where media freedom must be tempered with considerations for the national good and the rights of individuals.
To justify his unlawful machinations against the media, Mr Kimaiyo is relying on a skewed and self-serving interpretation of Article 33 of the Constitution.
The Kenya Editors Guild wishes to state that this is an affront to media freedom and an attempt to prevent free flow of information contrary to Article 34 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
All of us are assumed to know and understand that the right to freedom of media is not absolute. However, the Kenya Editors’ Guild knows that any limitation to the right of freedom of media or any other fundamental right for that matter can only exist within the provision of Article 24 of the Constitution.
Mr Kimaiyo should appreciate that failings within the security systems that make room for terrorist attacks are a much greater threat to national security than media exposure of such failing.
The Kenya Editor’s Guild takes Mr Kimaiyo’s statement as an unacceptable threat to constitutional provisions on freedom of the media and the general freedom of communications.
We challenge the Inspector General of Police to prove his allegations of incitement and clarify why his officers are harassing journalists in the course of the ir duty.
The Guild also takes this opportunity to ask the Police and the Interior ministry to provide timely and accurate information on the large number of outstanding queries from the Westgate incident.
We treat the threats from the Kenya Police against the media as pathetic and tragic attempts by reactionary forces in society to drag the country back into the dark old days of one-party dictatorship and repression.
We have seen the same mindset in statements from the Parliamentary committees purporting to investigate the Westgate incident, but have instead focused their energies on threatening the media and covering-up for the Kenya Defense Force and other agencies that came out in bad light.
As media practitioners, we maintain that a free press holds the promise to foster innovative, successful and stable Kenyan democracy. Government and the police should seize this promise by recognizing the vital role of a free media and taking the necessary steps to create society in which independent media and journalists can operate freely and without fear or intimidation.
We remind the Kenya Police that it is the cardinal duty of media to access to information and share it with their audiences. This is a duty the media has largely carried out professionally, with integrity and a high sense of responsibility.
As it stands today, the media in Kenya is self-regulating and there are clear provisions in the law on how those aggrieved by media reportage can seek relief. Of all the people, Mr Kimaiyo must be assumed to know that there exists a Complaints Commission within the Media Council of Kenya where he or the National Police Service can file complaints against any media establishment and seek appropriate relief. His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta himself has once sought the indulgence of t he Complaints Commission of the Media Council over what he felt was reportage prejudicial to his reputation. So, why shouldn’t Mr Kimaiyo follow the President’s example?
If one is not satisfied by the decision of the Complaints Commission, there is judicial recourse as specified in law.
It is improper for the Police to argue that media exposure of what went wrong at Westgate threatens national security, supports an enemy of the state or amounts to propaganda and incitement.
The media will not be cowed by such statements and will soldier own with efforts to uncover the truth and share it with the public.
Signed for and on behalf of the Kenya Editors Guild:
Macharia Gaitho – Chair
David Ohito – Vice-Chair
Hassan Kulundu – Ag Secretary
Catherine Gicheru – Asst Treasurer
October 24, 2013