For Maureen Mudi, a Kenyan journalist cum social activist, the freedom of the media is yet to be fully realized even in a liberal society like Kenya that has been hailed as a beacon of democracy in the East African region. Unknowingly, Mudi, in her role as Media Council of Kenya regional coordinator in charge of Mombasa(covering the entire coastal region), has found herself at the forefront in advocating and fighting to protect journalists’ rights, culminating in her being awarded for her peace efforts in the run-up and during the 2022 general elections in Kenya. East Site writer Isaac Swila recently caught up with her for an interview and she lifts the lid on her life in the newsroom, advocacy, and the quest for a better, vibrant media.
So, Maureen, you recently won a peace award. What was it about?
First of all, I must say that the award got me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it. I actually got the information (that I had been nominated for it) while attending an MCK event in Mombasa. A call came through from Haki-Africa (is a pan-African human rights organization based in Mombasa). They had put out an advertisement asking members of the public to nominate people or persons whom they thought had engaged in peace and cohesion in one way or the other during the elections and I happened to have made the cut. Haki-Afrika Executive Director Hussein Khalid then explained the process. It wasn’t easy even to make the final shortlist.
What exactly did you do in your view that made members of the public nominate you?
I’ve been engaged in a lot of work particularly geared towards promoting the freedom of the media especially in the Coast and ensuring that journalists operate in a free environment, devoid of harassment and intimidation. I remember one incident during the general elections when I got a report that one journalist had been arrested in Likoni. I took up the issue by going to the scene. I later gathered that the journalist had been arrested for merely informing the police officers that there were unattended ballot boxes. So, in their wisdom, the police detained him with a view of grilling him further (to shed light on what he knew about the ballot boxes (claims of ballot stuffing and rigging were rife). I instructed the journalist not to record a statement until we found him a lawyer. I didn’t want a scenario where they use his statement to incriminate him. We also got to talk with the regional police boss. Before long this information had found its way out there and journalists were calling from all over the country to do a story about the incident. We even had Police spokesperson Bruno Shioso intervene. The matter was amicably settled.
There was also a separate case we had in Changamwe, Mombasa where the police attempted to arrest a female Nation Media Group journalist for merely doing her work (recording a video) of two rival camps feuding. They happened to come from family (and probably didn’t want negative media coverage). Through my intervention the matter was settled. It got the attention of Mombasa County Commander, and the police officer in question apologised.
Other than that, in the run-up to the elections I was part of a multi-sectoral forum on elections preparedness. I was the forums’ secretary, with the Coast regional commissioner being the chair. We had various stakeholders involved and our role was early mapping (of possible violence hot spots ahead of the polls) in the region, giving warning and coming up with ways through which to avert the danger.
What efforts did MCK make, through your office, for journalists, during the general elections?
Yes, as the Media Council of Kenya we set up a media centre in our regional offices in Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu and Meru. In Mombasa the media centre was at the Kenya School of Government. This being the county tallying centre journalists could operate from here as they worked for long hours. We set up desks and internet connection by partnering with other organisations. Apart from that the Centre offered food and refreshments to journalists just to ensure they covered the elections with ease. On average it served around 50 journalists daily.
As an MCK regional coordinator, what does your role entail?
I coordinate the Council’s activities in the Coast region. This involves six counties; Mombasa, Taita Taveta, Kilifi, Kwale, Tana Rivera and even Lamu. We also do a lot of training and this was evident towards elections. We took journalists through election reporting and developed manuals for the same.
Having been involved in all this you have a rich first-hand experience. In your assessment, what’s the state of media freedom at the Coast and Kenya in general, on a scale of 1 to 10, the latter being the highest?
There are issues – access to information still remains a major challenge. Some journalists still violate the law, for instance photographing protected areas such as police stations. This is due to ignorance so a lot of civic education is still needed. Journalists also need to know that as much as we have our rights, there are limitations to those rights.
Apart from that the Coast region has a lot of challenges. Insecurity is a major issue and since journalists report on it they are exposed, they get threats and so on. So, on a scale of 10, I would put the media freedom at the Coast and the country at large at 5.
Away from your media work, who is Maureen Mudi?
I am 41, a wife and mother to four girls (one of them now deceased). I’ve practised journalism for 19 year starting off as an intern at People Daily. Later on I joined the Star newspaper, rising to be the level of Coast Chief Correspondent. I’ve also worked at the Standard Media Group. I’ve also participated in a number of programmes, including a one year exchange programme in Uganda, sponsored by AMWIK (Association of Media Women in Kenya). I also attended a professional fellowship in the US A in 2013.
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