Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Human rights defenders and journalists in Kenya explored routes to closer communication at an IWPR round table amid growing security concerns for both sectors.
IWPR and Africa Uncensored, an independent investigative media house, are collaborating under the Voices for Change: Africa programme to forge closer relationships between civil society activists and journalists reporting on and campaigning against human rights abuses.
Ten journalists and ten human rights defenders from across Kenya were brought together as part of this project to better understand the work done in both sectors and work together on stories and campaigns.
Participants at the February 20 event discussed the challenges both communities faced midway through the two year project, especially in the wake of the recent disappearance and death of local community activist Caroline Mwatha.
Mwatha was a founding member of the Dandora Community Social Justice Centre, based in a Nairobi neighbourhood that has seen a slew of summary executions. She had been investigating extrajudicial killings.
“Caroline’s death has scared a lot of us, but it is time that we stand together,” said Francis Auma, who works with Muslims for Human Rights in Mombasa. As part of Voices For Change, Auma has been supported in his own campaigning against police brutality and summary executions in Kenya’s coastal region.
Edgar Ogutu, a journalist who is himself a founding member of the Dandora social justice centre, agreed that the two sectors needed to stand together.
“Journalists should come down to the ground and see for themselves what is going on,” he said.
Forging links between human rights groups and the media can be complicated, not least when it comes to what may seem competing interests. Activists may be frustrated by the media’s insistence on objectivity and interpret this as presenting a biased viewpoint. Journalists can be sometimes frustrated by the different concerns and slower pace of work in the human rights field.
Hussein Mohammed, an investigative reporter with a local television station, acknowledged that journalists were sometimes insensitive to human rights defenders’ security concerns. He also noted that journalists needed to show more consistency in order to improve what should be a good relationship between the two disciplines.
“Some journalists will use sources for the glory of the story, then when the story is done they move on. It is a serious problem that we need to remedy,” he concluded.
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