Intimidation of media must be stopped

By: HENRY MAINA

The recent arrest and detention of Nation Media Group’s parliamentary Editor John Ngirachu, for allegedly reporting on privileged information is unconstitutional, was in bad taste, and designed to intimidate the media from covering corruption in the government.

According to Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery, this privileged information was obtained from an in camera session before the Public Accounts Committee when he was responding to questions over payments amounting to Sh3.8 billion in his ministry.

From a freedom of expression and freedom and independence of the media perspective, the arrest and detention of Mr Ngirachu as well as the subsequent statement issued by Mr Nkaissery is a source of great concern.

We interpret these actions as a threat to legitimate discussion on corruption in Kenya.

Any society committed to fighting graft is alive to the importance of a free and independent media.

PILLARS OF A FREE PRESS

A free press depends on the free flow of information from the media to the people and the people to the media.

Journalists depend on non-journalists (sources) for the supply of information on issues of public interest.

These sources often come forward with secret or sensitive information, relying upon the reporter to convey it to the people in order to expose matters of concern to the nation.

Anonymity is the precondition upon which the information is conveyed from the source to the journalist because of fear of repercussions, which might threaten their physical safety or job security.

JOURNALISTS’ CODE

Journalists often refuse to divulge both the names of their sources and the nature of the information passed to them in confidence, the rationale being that without means to protect their confidential sources, their ability, for example, to expose corruption of public officials would be diminished.

In fact, journalists are bound by a professional code of ethics from revealing their sources.

Many have relied on such codes in courts of law when faced with orders to reveal the identity of their sources.

Mr Ngirachu’s arrest comes even as Kenyans are receiving a steady flow of information about mismanagement of public resources at both levels of government that has seen the misappropriation of billions of taxpayer shillings.

This at a time of unprecedented international borrowing that has seen the sovereign debt rise to record levels and the Kenyan shilling weaken.

This combination of factors, among others, has caused a sharp rise in interest rates and inflation.

National security is one of the preferred legal tools by which the government illegitimately suppresses the free flow of information.

National security restrictions are often vague or respond to statements that pose only a hypothetical risk of harm, making them ideal instruments of abuse to prevent the airing of unpopular ideas or criticism of the government.

We reiterate that the statements made by Mr Nkaissery and the subsequent arrest and detention of Mr Ngirachu are unconstitutional, in bad taste, and designed to intimidate the media to stop coverage on corruption in government.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION