Opinion |Today’s World Press Freedom Day should inspire journalists in Kenya to fight media capture

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By PATRICK MAYOYO

Today as the world celebrate the World Press Freedom Day journalists in Kenya are a troubled lot because of suffering job losses due to redundancies caused by a hostile media environment created by Media Capture.

The Kenyan media has been under siege since Jubilee took the reins of power in March 2013. Today hundreds of journalists are without jobs or going to lose jobs because of media capture.

Media capture is a growing phenomenon linked both to the resurgence of authoritarian governments as well as to the structural weaknesses presently afflicting media markets.

In this environment, the political elite and economic barons are colluding to undermine the independence of privately-owned media through control of advertising revenue.

The Jubilee administration has created the most difficult environment for press freedom. After they ascended to power they came with the media capture strategy that was largely implemented by the insolvent data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica.

In this strategy, the government came up with a body called the Government Advertising Agency (GAA) which consolidated government advertising into a single institution thereby denying government agencies the freedom to choose which media houses they preferred to advertise with and pay them directly.

The GAA established a publication called MyGov through which all government advertisements were published and later circulated as a weekly insert in the local daily newspapers.

Police officers harass former KTN’s Rashid Ronald during NASA’s anti-IEBC demonstrations in Kisumu, October 9, 2017. PHOTO | STANDARD MEDIA

But the government has been unable to pay local media houses more than Sh 2.5 billion since 2017 leading to major cash-flow difficulties to most media houses.

Nation Media Group is owned more than Sh 857 million, Standard Group Ksh 829m, President Uhuru Kenyatta owned Mediamax Network Ksh 780m, Radio Africa Ksh 469m and Royal Media Services Sh 75m.

In the recent past several media houses have issued redundancy warnings, salary cuts and posted losses during the last financial year.

This is a very worrying trend for press freedom and as journalists in Kenya celebrate  the 2020 World Press Freedom Day, they should ponder on how media capture has impacted their work.

They should also evaluate how the state and its institutions, utilized by ruling political elites, are becoming the most significant factor in how corrupt relationships are shaped and protected in the media.

It is against this background that I support UNICEF’s position that 3 May acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.

Citizen TV reporter Stephen Letoo in pain after he was assaulted by General Service Unit officers at JKIA, Nairobi, on March 26, 2018. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, has also urged States to free all media workers detained because of their work and stop the intimidation and repression of the independent press.

His position has been emphasized in a recently published report to the UN Human Rights Council where he questioned the way in which Governments attack the messenger and limit reporting rather than act responsively on the information disclosed.

UNICEF has also said that World Press Freedom Day is a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story. It is against this background that I want journalists to remember the excesses of the Jubilee administration against them.

Ever since, March 27, 2018 when police assaulted and injured three journalists at JKIA as they covered the drama that characterised lawyer Miguna Miguna’s return to Kenya from Canada no action has been taken on this issue.

Those assaulted and injured included Nation TV cameraman Robert Gichira, Citizen TV reporter Stephen Letoo while KTN News Senior Reporter Sophia Wanuna was slapped by one of the officers in one of the ugliest scenes of media attacks in the recent past.

Since then no police officer has been questioned or arraigned in court over this growing list of barbaric incidents against journalists.

But as journalists around the world celebrate the World Press Freedom Day journalists in Kenya need to reflect on these incidents and others that gives a bearing on the kind of environment they are operating in.

Nation TV cameraman Robert Gichira in pain after he was assaulted by police at JKIA on March 26, 2018. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA

President Kenyatta’s regime first initiated and a Jubilee-dominated Parliament passed several anti-media laws, including the one that slaps hefty fines and penalties on media houses and individual journalists for breaches.

Several journalists were injured when goons and police attacked journalists as they covered  the return of ODM leader Raila Odinga from the West.

And when some TV stations covered his mock swearing-in on January 30, the government descended on them with a sledge hammer, closing four for several days.

Episodes of journalists being harassed, beaten up or killed have escalated to unprecedented levels in Kenya in the recent past.

Journalists have been attacked by politicians, the police, government officials and members of the public, with others losing their lives under mysterious circumstances.

We need to remind the authorities about the roughing up Citizen TV’s Francis Gachuri and NTV’s Jane Gatwiri by goons during a meeting called by Nasa at the Wiper headquarters in Nairobi 2017, we need to put pressure on authorities to also act on other cases.

Veteran journalist and founder of Mirror Weekly John Kituyi was walking home from work near his home in Eldoret town when he was killed by unknown people.

Another correspondent Joseph Masha of the Standard Group based in Kilifi was claimed to have been poisoned when he shared a meal with a vocal politician one evening. The journalist collapsed and died moments after meeting the politician.

We need to remind the state about the mysterious of disappearances of Dickson Bosire, popularly known as Bogonko Bosire, the founder of Jackal News and former Nation Media Group legal editor, Albert Muriuki, who disappeared while employed by State House as Deputy Director, Constitutional and Legislative Affairs.

In 2016, Julius Kariithi, a correspondent with Kenya’s Citizen TV was attacked by over 15 security guards with kicks and batons. He had been covering a protest by primary school pupils against a decision by a local agricultural company to reclaim a piece of land it had allocated the school ten years ago.

In 2016, a freelance photographer Dennis Otieno was gunned down by three men seeking to recover from him a certain ‘sensitive’ photo he had taken earlier in the day in Kitale.

In 2009, Francis Nyaruri a journalist with Weekly Citizen was tortured and killed. His mangled and decapitated body was found two weeks after he disappeared.

In 2000, Samuel Nduati a journalist with Royal Media House, was shot dead by unknown assailants. Nduati had worked on several stories about corruption at the Coffee Board of Kenya.

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