Journalists forced to work under the heel of repressive regimes

Saturday June 24 2017

 

By ERICK ODUOR
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The Committee to Protect Journalists last year named Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan and Burundi as the deadliest countries for journalists to work in. The New York-based NGO based its findings on deaths of journalists that had been reported in the affected countries.

Other African countries making the list of top five deadliest countries for journalists were Libya and DR Congo. Kenya entered this category following the death of Eldoret-based journalist John Kutuyi two years ago.

In another report released in May this year by Reporters Without Borders, Kenya, alongside South Africa and Nigeria, had not improved on its ranking. Tanzania led the pack followed by Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi at positions 83, 95, 112, 159 and 160 respectively.

Politics, corruption and crime top the list of causes of deteriorating press freedoms and deaths of journalists in the world in which Mexico tops the list of deadliest workstations.

Heightened political activity in the region due to forthcoming elections in Kenya and Rwanda are likely to trigger a ban on media outlets and a clampdown on journalists.

Ironfisted regimes

Although Tanzania is not in an election season, President John Magufuli’s desire to maintain a firm grip on key institutions, has seen a number of sanctions taken against the media by his administration.

Practising journalism in Tanzania is increasingly becoming a criminal undertaking if the number of closures and bans on media houses is anything to go by.

The ruling regime’s with ironfisted handling of the media started last year when it banned two radio stations for allegedly allowing callers to insult President Magufuli.

The row between the media and the government reached fever pitch with the raid on a private TV station by Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda, resulting in the sacking of Information Minister Nape Nnauye, who had condemned the assault.

In Kenya, a number of open files with journalists as the main suspects are gathering dust at the shelves of senior criminal investigation officers’ offices at the headquarters of Kenya’s criminal investigation department. Curiously, most journalists who have been arrested are never charged in court, save for bloggers, but their files remain open for purposes of intimidation.

With elections in August, journalists can only fasten their safety belts so that they can tell the story to a public that is thirsting for accurate and objective information.

'Meat wrappers'
The clampdown on the Kenyan media comes in many forms: reduced budgets for advertising from corporates and government; physical attacks on journalists, especially by law enforcers; and derogatory remarks by high-profile leaders led by President Uhuru Kenyatta, who believes that newspapers are only fit for wrapping meat.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, journalists covering sensitive areas like corruption, land grabbing, debate on the International Criminal Court, extra-judicial killings by police and bad corporate governance are marked men and women, who are likely to lose their lives.

In Rwanda, journalists watch their backs before uttering a word because of self-censorship occasioned by previous disappearances and detention of members of the Fourth Estate.

With elections around the corner, confidants of President Paul Kagame have increasingly ensured that the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front is in total control. However, Kigali has contributed positively in improving freedom of the media by hosting exiled Burundian journalists who operate in the country.

The crisis in Burundi has forced almost 90 per cent of journalists to operate outside the country, with the majority being hosted in Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya. The protest against a third term for President Pierre Nkurunziza crippled the country’s media industry, allowing only the state and its allies in the industry to operate.

Erick Oduor is vice president of the Eastern African Journalists Association and secretary-general of the Kenya Union of Journalists.