That freedom, freedom of expression, comes with responsibility is not in doubt. That hate speech is a problem Kenyans must deal with for any quest for national cohesion is to succeed is not in doubt.
That we have laws and institutions to deal with the menace of hate speech is a fact.
What is in doubt is why as a county we have not dealt with the problem of hate speech decisively. We need to debate this seriously, not only in light of the 2017 general election.
The thinking that more laws, especially targeting media, both traditional and online, is the panacea to the problem might be far-fetched. We must strengthen the investigative, processing and implementation mechanisms to deal with the issue.
Investigative agencies need enough resources to understand the existing laws, their application and threshold. For example, in a number of cases, agencies depend on media clips and articles to arrest hate suspects, while the Evidence Act is clear on the requirements, including original tapes, serial number of recording devices, and willingness by the media house to sign on the exhibit and appear as witnesses.
On the other hand, media ethics and procedure prohibit journalists from exposing sources, who among the editor or reporter/cameraperson will be the witness and related complications.
The processing needs to be enhanced to ensure that the agencies do not rely on media clips/articles for processing of the charges. Though media must desist from publishing, republishing and rebroadcasting hate speeches as a way of background information.
We should not kill technology nor infringe on the larger benefits of freedom of expression and access to information in the hope that this will help us reduce hate.
In any event, there is a lot of hate speech in bedrooms, schools, churches, work places, roads and other social and communal places.
In fact, if well and responsibly used, technology offers immense ways of helping in national cohesion, creating more understanding among Kenya and enhancing understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity.
However, use of online media platforms has attracted new laws and administrative codes aimed at regulating online journalism.
Online news production and dissemination has enormous opportunities in educating Kenyans and cementing peaceful existence.
It’s a folly to enact laws that target channels of communication rather than the offences themselves. What lacks is public awareness on existing laws.
Bwire is the deputy CEO, Media Council of Kenya.