NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 27 – And so the threats went on and on to a journalist who went out of her way in efforts to save millions of Kenyans reeling in shackles of disease, death and poverty that has made it impossible for them to access the most basic service – health.
The ‘mortal sin’ committed by one Stella Murumba, a Business Daily Journalist was that she exposed a huge scandal in which the country was said to have lost Sh5 billion in the Ministry of Health according to documents leaked to the reporter.
Buying all copies of the Business Daily right from the printer and moving from vendor to vendor across the Nairobi corners to ensure there were no copies of the paper exposing the scandal was not enough.
“People going to the streets and to the vendors and buying all the newspapers to make sure people don’t get to read that story,” Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary General Erick Oduor explained.”
The next was individualised intimidation of the journalist who of course using her wisdom recorded every sentence and word used to threaten her.
“Do you know the government really? I mean you don’t know government. We can get what you write even before you publish it, including getting print shots and screenshots of the story,” Dr Muraguri warned her on Wednesday when she met him to give the ministry a right of reply.
Dr Muraguri’s show of might was not one that was taken lightly across the country especially by organs put in place to defend rights of journalists.
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on its Facebook page condemned the act and urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to put to an end the unflattering attacks on journalists.
“If President Uhuru Kenyatta is committed to rooting out #corruption in Kenya, he must act against the government official who threatened a Business Daily journalist.”
In the audio recording transcribed also on the Daily Nation newspaper, Dr Muraguri said; “Someone can be reading your messages while sitting here. If there is need to hack Nation’s system, we can.”
CPJ appealed to the President to clarify if the government was indeed snooping communication of journalists in the country.
“President Kenyatta must also publicly state whether his government is or isn’t intercepting journalists’ communication. Kenya should be a beacon of press freedom in East Africa. If what the health Principal Secretary has threatened about spying and intercepting communication is true, then it’s a sad day for all Kenyans. The president must do the right thing,” CPJ further stated.
Kenya Editors Guild Chairman Linus Kaikai who is also the Managing Editor & General Manager for Television at Nation Media Group was equally enraged by the outright disregard for media freedom.
“It is a reflection of what we have seen for a few years now especially on the issues of intolerance on the freedom of information space. Government officials are demonstrating this time and again. Dr Muraguri has only illustrated only what has been a trend.”
It is an observation shared by KUJ which said threats to journalists in Kenya had increased especially where journalists exposed corruption.
“We have been receiving so many cases of threats and even assault on journalists. It has become like a trend in this country such that slapping a journalist is not a big deal,” Oduor complained.
While still handling Wednesday’s incident, KUJ received yet another complain with a thread of threatening text messages sent to a journalist by a Member of County Assembly in Kisii.
Only recently, guards working at Kakuzi Farm in Murang’a County were captured on TV clobbering journalists – a matter that has seen one of the alleged suspects arraigned before court.
In another case in Eldoret, a top police officer confiscated a photojournalist’s camera and with the intervention of KUJ, the officer had to buy a new camera to replace the one he had broken.
According to Kaikai, those were some of the strategies employed to instill fear in journalists and to silence them from holding those responsible for corruption to account.
“What we are seeing is the end of the culture of accountability. We need to worry about the bigger picture which is the death of accountability.”
“It is criminilised and it is deplorable that the media asks these questions. At some point Muraguri asks Stella, ‘do you know government?’ it’s a true reflection of what is happening now, resistance to accountability.”
Though Kenya is one of the freest media and in fact a host for journalists in exile especially from the region threats and harassment of journalists has raised eyebrows over fears that they have cascaded from the top officers to the bottom most officers.
“There is need for the leadership of this country to go into deep reflection and assess what this with totality of time mean for the country when the media are faulted and there is no accountability. We are entrenching the culture of impunity and if the President doesn’t move to stop these things I don’t know what the future of this country will look like,” he warned.
CPJ earlier in the year found that ‘a combination of legal and physical harassment makes it increasingly difficult for journalists to work freely.’
In its report it concluded that the; “restrictions on the Kenyan media come at a time when public discourse and transparency are essential, in light of hefty government spending on development.”
Whereas Nation Media Group security team was investigating Wednesday’s incident, Kaikai same as other media organisations expected that the government would to crack the whip to protect journalists and also demonstrate that it was committed to fighting corruption and freedom of the media by addressing Dr Muraguri’s action and the expose that led to the entire drama.