Kenya: Press freedom celebrations in Kenya shadowed by mysterious deaths

Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) - Kenyan media practitioners have celebrated the World Press Freedom Day with mixed feelings of victory and retrogression following an early victory in the law courts, which led to the outlawing of criminal libel as a means of punishment against freedom of expression.

At the same time, journalists frowned at intense persecution by security forces and the killing of four journalists over the past few months.

“Journalists have been beaten and harassed by security personnel,” said Linus Kaikai, Chairman of the Editors Guild, during the event to mark the World Press Freedom Day on Wednesday.

Kaikai condemned the harassment of journalists and the victimization of others during the year as a setback to press freedom.

Charles Kerich, Chairman of the Media Council, the independent regulatory body tasked with overseeing media regulations, said a court order to outlaw the use of criminal libel as a punishment against freedom of expression was one milestone this year.

Kerich said the courts outlawed criminal libel in Kenya, but parliament was yet to pass the relevant law to remove criminal libel from the Kenyan statutes.

“We would like to see the revision of the criminal procedure code to remove criminal libel from the statutes of Kenya. Having a court declare it illegal is a step, but removing it from our statutes is the ultimate,” Kerich said.

Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chair, Wafula Chebukati praised the media for the role it has played in advancing peaceful elections.

“On this World Press Freedom Day, we are reminded of the important role the media plays and this year the theme, 'Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies'- aptly captures the message of peace as we approach the elections,” Chebukati said.

Chebukati said 2017 being an election year, the IEBC is cognizant to the fact that the media is essential to the election process.

“A free and fair election is not only about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but also about a participatory process where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about political parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself so as to make informed choices,” he said.

The death of a Standard newspaper journalist Joseph Masha in Sept. 2016 was among the issues raised by journalists concerning the safety and security of reporters. The journalist was found dead a day after holding a meeting with a politician in Kilifi, a Kenyan coastal city.

William Oloo Janak, chair of Kenya Correspondents Association, remembered the mysterious deaths of journalists Francis Nyaruri, John Kituyi, Bernard Wesonga and Joseph Masha.

Nyaruri died mysteriously after writing stories accusing local police of fraud in a local construction project in the western town of Kisii. His body was found in a thicket after going missing for days in 2009.

Wesonga, who also worked for the Star newspapers in Mombasa, was found dead at home in 2013. The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear.

But journalists investigating stories of fraud, including illicit importation of goods and banned substances, have been targeted and eliminated in recent years in Kenya, PANA reports.

According to Chebukati, recent times have seen the definition of media broaden from the traditional electronic and print media to encompass new media that include online journalism and social media.

“Citizen Journalism continues to gather momentum permeating even in countries perceived as having strict regulations,” the IEBC chairman said.

He said a prime concern of media coverage during elections is the right of voters to full and accurate information and their right to participate in debates as well as dialogue on policy matters with all political actors.

-0- PANA AO/AR 3May2017

03 may 2017 19:08:35

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