NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 15 – The Ministry of Information and Communication has softened its stand on foreign journalists working in the country without the necessary permits and denied that it is out to intimidate any of them.
“We welcome international journalists in this country and for many years, most international journalists have preferred to live here in Kenya and we welcome that. There is no way the government of Kenya would want to intimidate journalists in this country,” the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo said during a breakfast meeting with a section of foreign journalists working in Kenya.
Ndemo stated that his ministry would assist the journalists as they applied for the necessary permits with the Ministry of Immigration and would petition a relaxation of what he termed to be stringent requirements.
“Immigration puts some regulations which are so stringent for the film sector which cuts across to the journalists and we are actually pushing from the ministry to see that they make some revisions that are necessary.”
While agreeing with Ndemo that the Kenyan government was not out to intimidate foreign journalists, the Government Spokesman Muthui Kariuki also present at the meeting said the requirements were necessary to ensure the safety of foreign journalists.
“Government has no intention of stopping you from going about your own business. What my colleague (Joseph) Olewe said on Wednesday is all meant for your own good. We had a terrible case some 30 years ago of a lady called Julie Ward but if you stand by what Mr Olewe has said we will always know of your whereabouts and we will also be able to make sure that you do not meet with the militia that Nima Elbagir of CNN was writing about.”
Ndemo criticised the social media attack on Elbagir following the publication of her report on the Cable News Network (CNN) website saying that persistent, targeted attacks on Elbagir and her fellow foreign journalist might land the offending parties in jail.
“We are making every effort to see that those who are propagating this message we get to arrest some of them and they face the law but we are not going to be annoyed to interfere with the Internet the way it’s been working.”
Ndemo however cautioned local and foreign journalists not to fall prey to civil society groups and political parties out to spread messages of hate as Elbagir did.
“Political parties and civil society have made attempts to misuse journalists and actually mislead journalists into doing or reporting things that are not accurate.”
“Investigations have revealed that the original story that led to lots of attacks of foreign journalists in the country was concocted… It’s actually unfortunate that they could be fooled to get a story like this online.”
Unlike the last election where text messages were used to disseminate hate, Ndemo says the problem is now on social media and the government is moving to legislate a requirement for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to register the users of every Internet Protocol (IP) address they issue to facilitate litigation.
The Permanent Secretary admitted that there is not much the Kenyan government can do in the event false reports are filed about the country by foreign journalists, “We have no enforcement mechanisms to go and retract a statement internationally this is why we are saying let us use diplomacy to deal with this matter.”
Kariuki however asked all journalists to exercise restraint, “Dr Ndemo talked about some people coming here to look for trouble to report… but this is a delicate time for Kenya and the media can be quite dangerous.”