Media practitioners in Kenya have accused the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) of failing to advocate for their freedom and rights.
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They say the Union has always focused on meeting the interests of the media owners and the government contrary to it obliged mandate of protecting and promoting media freedom in Kenya.
“Many journalists have been arrested, threatened and censored, but the union has always been reluctant to intervene in such situations,” Charles Ogallo, a journalist at the Cross Newspaper clarified.
According to research by Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Media Council of Kenya, there were an estimated 19 cases of threats or attacks against the press between January and May 2015, almost one a week, and all but three involved police or other state officials, including members of county assemblies.
Ogallo explained that conflict of interest where by owners of the media houses influence the Union is one of the major reasons why it has failed to deliver to its expectation.
“Most media houses in Kenya are owned by government officials who are also members to the union. This is a peril to the union since these officials work in favor of the government hence threatening and intimidating journalists with divergent views,” Ogallo elucidated.
Augustine Sang, a social editor at Daily Nation commended the union for mobilizing journalists in case there are issues affecting them, but he noted that there is a problem of laxity by the union in responding to some issues.
“The union is a bit slow in acting on some matters like low pay, for instance TV stations pay journalists and news anchors more than radio stations. This makes low paid journalists vulnerable to bribe,” Sang said.
In a report by the Media Council of Kenya titled "Training Needs and Working Environment for Journalists in Kenya” in 2013, most media houses do not have an established pay structure for journalists.
It is further stipulated in the report that the average salary of an experienced news anchor in Kenya is 1,488USD while fresh graduates earn 545 USD, the salary which Sang said is little compared to the work they do on a daily basis.
However, Erick Oduor, Secretary General of Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ), refuted claims that the union has failed in advocating for media freedom saying the union has on many occasions criticized repressive laws that limit media activities in the country.
“We will not sit back and allow anybody to erode the freedoms that we enjoy as journalists. I believe the union has always and will always intervene in situations where journalists’ rights are jeopardized,” the secretary general narrated.
Odour blamed the government for always influencing the activities of the union since it gets some financial assistance from it.
Denis Ole Itumbi, the Secretary of Innovation, Digital and Diaspora Communication in the Office of the President of the Republic of Kenya declined claims that the government has always been at the forefront of jeopardizing the union`s activities.
“The government of Kenya upholds media freedom in Kenya, in fact there is no department of government that lacks media person,” Itumbi explained.
The Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) is an organization seeking to improve working of conditions of journalists. It was formed in June 2, 1962.
The Union was founded to protect and promote media freedom, professionalism and ethical standards in the media industry. Members work across the industry – as freelances, writers and reporters, editors, sub-editors and photographers. Members are drawn from broadcast, print and online.