Royal Media Services (RMS) Group Editorial Director Linus Kaikai on Monday, July 25, opened up about how SK Macharia's relationship with Azimio la Umoja Presidential candidate Raila Odinga impacts journalists attached to the media house.
In an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Kaikai explained that profiling of journalists is a major concern as the campaign period hits fever pitch ahead of the August 9 General Election.
Specifically, the seasoned journalist explained that some RMS reporters were being profiled for alleged bias in their overage
He further noted that RMS, which owns Citizen TV, its sister station Inooro TV and a chain of radio stations, had repeatedly maintained that its editorial is independent from political affiliations of its owner.
"(RMS) journalists are being profiled as favoring Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition for the simple reason that our chairman and proprietor (SK Macharia) has declared his preference and is actively taking part in the campaigns for Raila Odinga. He has made it very public.
"We have made repeated assertions and given the public assurances that the position of the chairman doesn’t affect our editorial leaning but it’s not accepted," Kaikai explained.
The media boss expressed concerns that some of the politicians incited their supporters against RMS journalists, causing them to work with fear.
To maintain the reporters' safety, RMS, in some instances, opted to remove branding from their equipment.
"There is concern about the issue of profiling because these politicians have their supporters. And what they do is they unleash them on our media houses. They unleash them on our specific journalists. It is a security concern for our teams out there because profiling amounts to a green card to supporters to proceed as they may wish. We’ve had to remove our branding from our journalists.
"So no microphone that shows who we are, because if you proceed with your identity all over the place, you do not know what supporters will do," he added.
Cases of attack against the press during political rallies across the country have been on the rise as the election date draws closer.
In January 2022, a truck belonging to Citizen TV was pelted with stones as its occupants attempted to cover a rally organised by Deputy President William Ruto at the Jacaranda Grounds in Nairobi.
A report by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), released in mid-July 2022, also painted a grim picture on journalists' safety while covering political events.
The report showed that 49 per cent of journalists felt safer covering Raila than 31 per cent who would rather cover the DP. Only 17 per cent felt comfortable covering Root party’s Wajackoya.
The journalists were concerned after recent cases of some of them being kicked out of Ruto's functions including the party's National Delegates Convention as well as a public gathering in Njoro, Nakuru County.
John-Allan Namu, the founder of an independent news outlet, Africa Uncensored, observed that the 2022 elections recorded fewer attacks against journalists as compared to past polls but was concerned with the decline in press freedom.
"What I’ve heard from our teams is that the crowds at rallies are on edge, antsy. There is a sense that things could take an ugly turn fast," he explained.
As a result, he advised journalists to prioritise their safety.
"t’s always important to know where the police are. Are they coming? Are they already on the ground? And never put yourself between police and protesters. And avoid reporting after dark," he remarked.