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Gava must do more for journalism by providing timely, accurate info as per Constitution

Francis Gachuri is the latest prominent journalist to join government. The former Political Affairs Editor at Citizen TV was named Secretary, Strategic Communications at the giant and powerful Ministry of Interior and National Administration.

MINA photos dispatched to newsrooms on March 9 showed Gachuri standing first right in a sharp royal blue suit, red tie, clutching to his chest not a microphone but a diary and sheaf of papers, watching intently as his boss, Interior CS Prof Kithure Kindiki, addressed the media on the steps of the Office of the President, Harambee House.

The crossover is complete. Gachuri, to paraphrase one Nick Salat from South Rift, ako ndani ndaaaani ya Big Sirkal.

He isn’t the only one. Vifijo na nderemo tore through Lion Place on Waiyaki Way last Friday when the news broke that Kitale-based Radio Africa Group reporter David Musundi had been hired as Communications Officer for the George Natembeya administration in Trans Nzoia.

The speed at which national and county administrations have raided media houses to hire top-notch communicators – we have documented several since election – would seem to suggest the people in power are keen to run efficient, open and accountable government.

As they should. That’s what democracy is all about.

Article 35 of the Constitution stipulates that “everyone has the right of access to a) information held by the state, and b) information held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom”.

Article 35(3) says, “The state shall publish and publicise any important information affecting the nation.”

The duty bearer here is Big Sirkal. Why right of access to info? Because the country belongs to Kenyans and they must know what’s going on. National values and principles of governance include patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people.

None of that is possible without adequate access to info. Conscious and active citizenship requires info. To give effect to Article 35, President Uhuru Kenyatta on August 31, 2016 signed into law the Access to Information Act. Implementation of this law is ongoing.

Journalists would have an easy day if Gava provided all the info the public requires effectively and efficiently as envisaged by the Constitution and the law.

Gava talks all day. While people are asleep at night, Gava is still awake talking. But Big Sirkal is the worst communicator in town. By design. For the simple reason that governments are run by politicians, not pious priests striving to take people to Heaven.

Info is power, or Hitler’s propagandist-in-chief Joseph Goebbels would have no place in History. Info is quite effective for public control. Big Sirkal can swamp you with an avalanche of patently useless or misleading info. The honchos moving the levers of state power know for a fact most journos have neither the technical competence nor the patience to grasp some things. Gava is also second to none when it comes to flying kites, obfuscation, deliberate distortion and diversion of public attention.

Good journalists are aware of all these tactics. You just must be skeptical. So, after Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua fields questions in a wide-ranging live interview with reporters, NTV runs a separate story fact-checking his claims. Excellent. You don’t take anyone’s claims as gospel. You cross-check.

Frederick Douglass, the American slave who fled to freedom, warned us that: Power concedes nothing without a demand. That demand, when it comes to public info, is the entire point of Article 35.

In addition to obligating Big Sirkal to provide info, the Constitution in Article 34 proclaims freedom of the media. The Fourth Estate enjoys ironclad protections to establish and operate freely and independently. Primarily to demand info about matters of public interest on behalf of the people, or they would be short-changed and misled by the cunning wielders of state power.

So, you now see the two limbs on which the Right to Know stands. One, Gava has a duty to provide any important info affecting the nation. Two, the media has the right to collect, verify, package and disseminate info.

Big Sirkal cannot claim to be democratic if it does not provide accurate and timely info on all matters of public interest. And it is never for lack of competent personnel. You have info buffs like Gachuri and others everywhere in government.

What’s needed is political will to prioritise the constitutional right of access to information.

See you next week!

2 thoughts on “Gava must do more for journalism by providing timely, accurate info as per Constitution”

  1. Sad that today a bunch of politicians called for a presser and after talking on and on contemptuously refused to take questions. We looked helpless and very useless! Yet, they will call for another presser and, as expected, we have to cover them. Is this proper, especially in regard to what Article 35 of the Constitution says about the right to info and common decency? This matharau of a newsmaker calling for a presser, parroting throughout making wild allegations and at the end refusing to take questions before dismissing journalists like stray dogs to leave must come to an end.

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