Like many trade unions in Kenya, Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ), which is 52 years old today, was founded both as a craft and industrial labour organisation to fight for the rights of professionals in the industry.
The brains behind the founding of KUJ was the late Clement Were, an employee of the Standard newspaper sister publication, Baraza. The union was formed on June 2, 1962 and registered on August 1 the same year.It drew membership from the both electronic and print media with the then ministry of Information and Broadcasting staff forming the bulk of membership.
But that was only for seven years. Their membership was withdrawn in the fall out that followed extensive coverage of parliamentary proceedings on the administration of traditional oath to a community in 1969.It was not only a set back for the union but to objective reporting in the country where leaders were allergic to truth telling. It also helped inflict fear in the media houses, their staff and led to self censorship.In the absence of job security, journalism became a risky profession. Loud silence greeted routine torture and harassment of scribes.
In the years that followed, media houses failed to protect their employees from ruthless law enforcement agents. For not raising fingers against primitive actions, media houses can safely be said to have been accomplices.
In the line of duty, journalists – from cub reporters to executive editors – suffered injustices in the hands of law enforcement agents. Interrogations of journalists became the order of the day. Most of the journalists were detained or convicted on tramped up charges and hardly got back their jobs.Few examples survive to illustrate the ruthlessness with which leaders punished whistle blowing and truth seeking under the noses of fearful media owners.
One brave journalist summoned courage and criticised detention without charge but that commentary cost him a job. George Githii, the Standard Editor in Chief, was sacked for advocating the abolition of detention without charge.
A columnist, Philip Ochieng, was arrested inside a football stadium for a commentary on the safe passage to Entebbe raid by Israeli Commandos on a mission to free hostages in a hijacked flight.
News Anchor, Rose Lukalo, lost her job with KTN television in the early 1990s for breaking news on the resignation of the then Health minister, Mwai Kibaki, from the then ruling party, Kanu.
Humour columnist, Wahome Mutahi, was arrested in the Nation newspaper offices. News of his arrest was carried by the foreign press not the Nation or any other local news organisation. His brother Njuguna Mutahi, an employee of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was also arrested. The Mutahi brothers were arraigned in court after working hours and were each sentenced to two years.
Otieno Makonyango, Sunday Standard news editor, was arrested in 1982 after the attempted coup by the Kenya Air Force rebel soldiers. Their freedom was short-lived. Makonyango believes that his incarceration was over the coverage of the assassination of a prominent politician and government critic, Josiah Mwangi Kariuki.
Standard newspaper was the only paper that carried the discovery of the bullet riddled body of the slain politician in a forest when another paper maintained that he was on a private visit to Zambia.
Sunday Nation news editor, Mitch Odero, lost his job for covering the utterances of former Vice President, Oginga Odinga against former presidentJomo Kenyatta.
The Editor of magazine, Beyond, Bedan Mbugua was jailed for coverage of agitation for pluralism.Paul Amina was arrested inside the law courts for coverage of perceived government critics. He was detained without trial at the Kamiti Maximum Prison for six months.
Michael Ngwala was relieved of his duties at the Weekly Review for directing an unpleasant question to former Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) chairman, Zaccheus Chesoni. Mugo Theuri and Njuguna Mutonya were also arrested and charged and convicted. The list is long and endless.Journalism practice in the country has not been a bed of roses more so in the days of the de facto de jure one party state.