The Media industry has taken note of the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) statement issued on October 7, 2020, and the ratification of the same following a Cabinet meeting of October 8. The statement was issued in regard to increasing political activities that the government says are becoming a threat to law and order.
Our particular interest and concern are in regard to constraints on media reporting of political events. We find this retrogressive and unnecessary interference in the work of the media and access to information by Kenyans.
We are conscious of the threat posed by reckless political activities and utterances and haver enough internal mechanisms to deal with this.
We recognise and are appraised that heightened political activity is showing evidence of inflammatory utterances that can serve to ignite tension and hatred in the country. There have also been recent incidents of political violence that have regrettably led to loss of life.
We acknowledge that irresponsible media reporting in this environment can sometimes have the effect of fuelling the tensions.
That is why we have been at the forefront in encouraging responsible and professional journalism, which has included regular peer review engagements, media information literacy, training programmes on conflict-sensitive reporting, hate speech, election reporting, and coverage of communal, ethnic, and political strife.
These efforts by media stakeholders, are well documented and played an integral part in the evolution of the media co-regulatory framework established by law under the Media Council of Kenya Act. The media in Kenya has proved itself one of the most professional, independent, and responsible in Africa.
We are therefore surprised that the National Security Advisory Committee and the Cabinet are proposing curbs on media reporting of political activity without reference to the independent media regulatory body recognised and established by the Constitution and Acts of Parliament.
This indicates a dangerous trend where security agencies may assume powers that amount to curbs on media freedom.
It learnt lessons from the 2007-2008 post-election conflict that went a long way towards various guides on reporting violence and politics, all of which is captured by the Code of Ethics for the Practise of Journalism in Kenya under the Media Council Act.
Any breaches of the ethical guidelines in reporting under the current political environment are best addressed under the established mechanisms, including the Media Complaints Commission rather than by giving security agencies unchecked powers to control the media.
We would also caution against any curbs that threaten editorial independence and prerogatives, or any attempts to silence discordant voices that may seem to find expression through the media.
The leadership of the media industry, therefore, urges that the National Security Advisory Committee statement and the Multi-Agency Team on Public Order terms of reference be reviewed to remove any that pose threats to media freedom as outlined in Section 6 of the Media Council Act, and the general freedom of speech, expression and communications enjoyed by all citizens.
Such orders if implemented will greatly erode the gains made in strengthening a free and responsible media industry in the country.