Media Council writes to the Chief Justice over jailing of Tuko News editor

Chief Justice Martha Koome. Photo/Courtesy

The Media Council of Kenya has written to the Chief Justice in protest of the jailing of Tuko News editor without a hearing over what was claimed to be contempt of court.

MCK CEO David Omwoyo said the 26th September decision where Didacus Malowa was jailed for five days after being sentenced to six months in jail or pay a fine of Sh 50,000 for publishing what was claimed to be “Contempt of Court” and “Publishing of a damaging story about court proceedings” (ACC Case No. 10/2018) was unfair.

The letter said that Senior Principal Magistrate Eunice Nyutu stated that the media platform misreported and damaged the reputation of a witness.

According to the Magistrate, the punishment will act as a deterrent to other journalists, editors, and media houses against publishing misleading articles.

According to MCK, the specifics about the damaging contents in the story were not provided.

“The summons to the media were honoured as directed and there has not been any question or complaints about the facts or accuracy of the news article published by at least five media houses in the country,” the CEO said.

Miscarriage of justice

Omwoyo said the jailing a journalist, without any hearing or recourse for a news article published by several media houses and whose accuracy has not been contested is not only a direct affront to media freedom, but in our opinion, a grave miscarriage of Justice.

“It is therefore shocking that a journalist honouring summons can be sentenced on sight, without an opportunity to defend themselves, or indeed without disobeying any court order as there were none at the time of sentencing,” Omwoyo added.

According to MCK, this is a precedent-setting ruling that has grave ramifications on the  freedom of the media in Kenya and the working relationship between media and the judiciary and therefore requests for your urgent intervention in this matter to guarantee the media and Kenya

The Council’s position is that the ethical conduct of journalists is governed by the Media Council Act 2013 and any person aggrieved by the ethical conduct of journalists should seek relief through the mechanisms prescribed in the Media Council Act. 

Amnesty International condemns the jailing

Amnesty International Kenya also made a statement condemning the ruling which tends to criminalise journalism.

AI said that in order to limit freedom of expression and freedom of the press, provisions must be clear and concise, have a legitimate purpose, be necessary and be proportionate. Jailing is unnecessary, disproportionate and thus unjustifiable.

They added that jailing of journalists for reporting on corruption will create a chilling effect that will shrink the space for accountability and democracy.