Independence of journalism has once again come under scrutiny after a standard newspaper journalist was summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to reveal sources of information.
The standard Deputy News Editor and Nakuru Bureau chief Alex Kiprotich was summoned to the Nakuru CID office to inform them about sources of stories done on the ongoing Nadome Killings, Baringo County.
Under the jubilee administration, journalism has come under various threats. Last month, two journalists were beaten by JSU officers in the coast. Reuben Ogada (Citizen TV) and Nehemiah Okwemba (NTV) were beaten by General Service Unit officers at Agricultural Development Cooperation Kulalu-Galana Ranch. A few weeks ago, veteran Eldoret Journalist John Kituyi was murdered in the town. His latest story was about the ICC.
In addition, Nation Media Group Editors and K24 journalists were summoned by CID last month. They were Macharia Gaitho, Bernard Namunane, Purity Mwambia and Frankline Wambugu. The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) summoned them over a story that linked the deportation of a senior spy officer by the Dutch government to The Hague cases.
The letter did not disclose whether the editors are wanted as suspects or witnesses, nor does it specify the nature of crime. It also did not disclose the identity of the aggrieved party. Their lawyers therefore advised them that;
“the purported summons fail to comply with the Constitution in several respects, and cannot, therefore, constitute lawful authority for appearance.”
At first, the jubilee administration signaled a cordial relationship with media when, within a few weeks of being sworn to office, President Uhuru and DP Ruto hosted editors at State House. Concerns at that time were the import of this gesture to objectivity in reporting. It was felt that the visit was to ensure journalists do not investigate and unearth rot in the administration.
This may not be the sole concern today, two years into the jubilee administration. There have been three previous attempts to muzzle the media through laws. The first were a raft of amendments into the Kenya Information and Communication Act (KICA) and the Media Council Act that provide for hefty fines if in breach of certain codes of conduct related to defamation et al. The concern here is not that journalists are free to defame, but laws in Kenya can easily be used to muzzle people due to lack of independence. The case is still in court.
The second attempt was by Eldas MP Adan Keynan through the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2014 had inserted a clause that sought to impose a Sh500,000 fine and jail term on journalists who publish reports that in the lawmakers’ judgment defame Parliament. Some MPs have been aired as sleeping in the House and this irked the members. Pressure from media and civil society made him to shelve the Bill.
The other attempt was to pass a law, which was later declared unconstitutional under the Security Laws Amendment Bill 2014 that would see journalists seek permission from police and affected family members before publishing terrorism related news. Section 12 of the Act had amended the Penal Code, making it criminal to publish or broadcast through print, digital or electronic means, or images of dead or injured persons likely to cause fear and alarm in the general public, or disturb the peace. Anyone convicted of this was liable for a fine of up to Sh5 million, or three years in jail.
Kipkoech’s story adds salt to an already alkaline state of affairs. In this times when bloggers are also threatened and intimidated for publishing information either charged under the Penal Code or KICA Act or both, there is reason to worry
Next time, bloggers who in recent months have been the reliable source of news, especially sensitive news like on corruption and abuse of office, they are likely to be threatened and summoned to reveal sources of information. For instance the tape recording showing MPs Sonia Birdi and Alfred Keter threatening police officers was reveled by blogger Robert Alai. Other corruption allegations at Geothermal Development Cooperation (GDC), Isiolo County and Tana and Athi River Development Authority (TARDA) are examples of revelations made by bloggers.
Bloggers may not enjoy the same protection as journalists in Kenya albeit internationally, jurisprudence exists on treating bloggers the same as journalists when requested to reveal sources of information.
The Standard reports threats by Valley Regional Police Commandant Gideon Amala to Kipkoech of unspecified actions if he does not reveal sources of his information.
“I swear by the name of God that someone must pay for this. Either you or your boss, someone must pay. We will not continue allowing you to report like this,”
Amala is heard on the recorded conversation in their possession.
Amala ha called him demanding to know the source of a story that appeared in The Standard about senior police officers who escaped death narrowly when they were allegedly ambushed by bandits at Kalpat village in Nadome, Baringo County.
Luckily, Alex had a lawyer in whom confidence can be expected to protect his client and also the profession. Security agencies should do their job to weed out insecurity across the country and specifically in Nadome and not intimidate journalists whose sole role is to inform society.