Journalists from Bungoma County took to the streets Monday to protest persistent attacks against journalists and media independence.
The 41 journalists were calling for more protection and freedom to carry out their work and demanded that cases of harassment and violence of journalists be investigated.
In a memorandum to the County Commissioner and Clerk of the County Assembly following threat to Mr Jimmy Simiyu, a journalist with Sulwe Fm, part of Royal Media Service, said they “were displeased with the conduct of the Bungoma County Governor Mr Wycliffe Wangamati.”
“The threats coming from a person from the Governor’s rank need not to be ignored or taken lightly,” they said in a joint statement.
They demanded that the Governor need to be summoned to record a statement on the same and issue a public apology to the victim.
Media Council, KUJ Condemn Bungoma Governor for Threatening Journalist
Consequently, the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) and the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) have condemned Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati for allegedly issuing threats to a local journalist based in the border town.
In a statement, the MCK said it had been in touch with the Sulwe FM journalist and advised him to make a statement with the police following the threats.
According to the reporter, Jimmy Simiyu, the governor used a proxy’s phone to call him and berated him over a story the reporter had filed.
Simiyu told colleagues who accompanied him to report the incident that he had been threatened with death by the governor who was furious about the ‘negative story.’
Today, journalists based in Bungoma are set to protest against harassment after one of their colleagues was allegedly threatened by County Governor over a story he did. Reporter's editor is said to have had a hand in it. #EditorForHire pic.twitter.com/F6vHtwnGda
— Obed Simiyu (@SimiyuObed) June 14, 2021
He said that the Governor called him even before the story was aired and blamed his editor for leaking the information to the county boss.
The said editor was allegedly paid a paltry KSh 3100 to kill the story.
The incident has created a storm among media practitioners who have condemned the Governor’s approach as well as the editor for being unprofessional and bringing the industry to disrepute.
KUJ Secretary General Eric Oduor vowed to follow the development to the bitter end to get to the truth of the matter with a view of protecting journalists.
“We already have a name…this editor must vomit the money,” Oduor said.
On its part, MCK has said it will continue to protect journalists working in Kenya and has urged police to accord the journalist security as the matter is investigated.
“The Council is also aware of allegations that the Governor called the reporter to threaten him after an editor from the media house tipped him off about a story that the reporter had filed over an event held in Bungoma County on Saturday 12th June 2021.
“As a first intervention, the reporter was advised by the Council to report the matter to police which was recorded as OB 16/13/6/21 at the Bungoma Police Station,” said MCK.
— Media Council of Kenya (@MediaCouncilK) June 14, 2021
The governor, through his Director of Communications Tim Machi, has denied threatening the journalist explaining that all he did was to inquire why the reporter did not reach out to him for a comment.
In a long statement, the Governor goes ahead to blame the journalist for being unprofessional in his conduct.
“Specifically, the Governor asked whether Jimmy tried calling him or any of his officers to respond to allegations by MCAs clearly known to act on instructions from a known puppeteer,” Machi said.
He added: “By his own admission, Jimmy said he did not to which the Governor asked, whether it was a norm and journalistic practice to file one-sided stories! There was no response. Was the Governor out of order to ask and expect this of Jimmy? Hardly. Does doing so jeopardise or interfere with Jimmy’s job as a journalist? No. Does this qualify as a threat? Not in the least.”
The reporter has, however, rubbished Machi’s statement, saying that was not what transpired between him and the governor over the tense phone conversation.
“He threatened me with death,” Jimmy Simiyu said.