By Joseph Kiguta
When Journalists can not do their work, ‘big’ secrets are swept under the carpet-perpetrators walk in dark shadows-and human rights abuses soars to unprecedented levels.
Journalism is a great career, having the ability to investigate facts and feed the information hungry world is a pride-but it is never a bed of roses, a lot of risk involved in the practice.
Professionals in the field, mostly reporters, commonly referred to as foot soldiers are the most vulnerable and open to threats and attacks because they operate from the field.
Political rallies, industry unrest, riots in education institutions, or government threats and intimidation are some of the risks they face on their daily routine.
Samuel Kariuki, a Photojournalist attached to Kenya’s first free daily newspaper, People Daily carries with himself a film full of risks in his five year stint on the job.
I organized for an interview with the photo story teller and he narrated one of his memorable ordeals that highlight dangers lurking with the career.
Some time a year ago, he embarked on a journey to investigate cases of tv viewers making purchase of counterfeit set top boxes after government had warned it would switch off millions of Kenyans using analog tv sets.
Government own set deadline for migration digital tv broadcasting had elapsed.
His choice of venue was River road-found in Nairobi’s downtown-where you get access to cheaper products in shops from electronics to car parts and even motor bikes.
“My intention was to capture people rushing to buy Digital TV boxes along river road shops, but I encountered a crime scene where a guy was slaughtering another with a machete in a small corridor,” he recalls.
There were screams all over, no one dared approach the killer. I captured every detail of the incident including police firing several shots that that fell down the perpetrator, he adds.
“ After the police left with the victim and the crime perpetrator, I felt some pain in my left leg, I realized I had been hit by a stray bullet without knowing. my clothes were soaked in blood and was unable to move the injured leg,” he says.
Luckily a good samaritan showed in time and i was taken to Kenyatta general hospital where I was hospitalized and the bullet lodged in the leg was removed.
“Am glad the company that I work for paid my hospital bill, I walk without any difficulty but the scars remind me the risk of my work,” offers Kariuki.
He survived the ordeal, but insists he loves his job despite the risk involved.
According to National Baseline Survey report published by Hivos, in 2013, safety and protection of journalist in Kenya remains at stake.
More than 70 percent of respondents (journalists) who participated in the survey indicated that they were dissatisfied with the level of safety and security measures in place in their media institutions.
Only 30 percent expressed any measure of satisfaction.
The study revealed need for real, urgent and immediate safety and protection plan for journalist and other media professionals in Kenya.
Kenya’s constitution, promulgated in 2010 guarantees freedom of expression , media freedom and access to information, under article 33, 34, 35 in the laws of Kenya.
These fundamental freedom enjoyed by journalists at time is threatened by the government of the day.
A recent case of journalist intimidation in their line of duty is that of senior reporter of Nation Media John Ngirachu who was arrested in relation to an article he had written questioning spending at the Interior ministry.
It was alleged that Interior minister Joseph Nkaissery ordered arrest of the journalist to force him to reveal his source of information when writing the story.
The Journalist was released afterwards without being charged after protest from Kenyans on social media, civil societies, and committee to protect Journalists and Kenya Union of Journalists.
According to UN plan of Action for the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, State authorities have an obligation to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently without undue influence.
Kenya is yet to dedicate resources necessary to investigate and prosecute cases of attack on journalist.
The legislatures also have a task of enacting facilitative and enabling laws that promote a safe, healthy and vibrant media sector.
News room managers are also said to be doing very little to ensure journalists are protected.
“We acknowledge the role of truly independent media now than ever in Africa and all around the world.Fulfilling that independent role may be difficult(now) than ever before” said Aga Khan, Founder Nation Media Group.
He was speaking during launch of Nation Media Group’s new state of art press.
According to Dr. Feinstein, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, Journalist who covers events such as post election violence in Kenya in 2007 or Westgate terror massacre, should get counseling session.
Deep traumatic nature of this exposure to violence many years ,either in rioting or mayhem, leave prominent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety he argues.
“Journalist are at risk of becoming victims of violence in their coverage of terrorist organization such as Al-Shabaab,” said Joel Simon, the director of Committee to protect journalists (CPJ).
He was talking at 2015 annual survey on Attack on the press.
The CPJ argued that enactment of security Laws (Amendment) Bill gives the government the power to stop the press covering terror attacks and this law was in bad faith.
-The writer is a Kenyan journalism student.