With a certainty the isolated but nevertheless continued actions of harassment of journalists by police can never be said to be a matter of policy. The reactions of senior police officers when a case of harassment is reported, is enough to restore anyone’s confidence that indeed the incidences are individual actions, highly regrettable, and would be wished away.
Such was the concern raised when two of our journalists were arrested, and one roughed up, for merely taking a photograph when a policeman was arresting a hawker who was conducting business in a no-business area. Senior police officers were quick to apologise for the unfortunate incident, and gave assurance that appropriate action would be taken against the itchy-fingered policeman.
But this has been done before, and yet the harassment continues. There is something missing that needs to be done urgently to curb further attacks on pressmen by police officers. The truth is that there is a general lack of understanding – and appreciation – of a journalist’s duties and privileges when on duty. Oftentimes they have been denied to cover public functions – like the Byumba case where our bureau chief there was arrested for taking a photograph of a public cattle auction.
The solution lies in sensitization workshops for the entire police force and the media, so that everyone knows the boundaries to covering news or when permission should be sought first.
This is therefore a call to the commissioners of police to engage the media in a meaningful dialogue to solve this impasse. The actions of errant individual policemen end up tarnishing the good image of the entire police force for nothing, simply because of lack of awareness. This country’s leaders are passionate about good governance in a practical way, and it is a shame that they are not being helped to achieve it for all their people.
Let police keep law and order for all, including journalists.