Concerns rife over shrinking press freedom in Kenya

Increase in threats and attacks on journalists and media organisations
Press Freedom Kenya

Man selling newspapers on the road in Nairobi

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NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 1 - Media practioners in Kenya have raised concerns over growing threats and attacks on journalists and media organisations with the regime change since September this year. In what is seen as direct onslaught on the media and infringement on press freedom, journalists, editors and media associations say there is course for worry as the media and journalists are unable to execute their duties professionally and independently.

“The media sector in Kenya requires consolidation and unity to confront the challenges that are emerging. The challenges are obvious because of the change of the regime, the policy and legal environment and the question of over diminishing environment are a threat to existence of the media and safety and security of journalists. We must be prepared to ensure we guard the space as enshrined in the constitution,” stated Oloo Janak, the chair of the Kenya Correspondents Association. Janak spoke during a special Freedom Café held at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom offices in Nairobi on precincts of the role of the media in promoting democracy and the rule of law in Kenya. Participants at the Café discussed openly the worrying media situation in the country and cited increasing vulnerabilities in the face of the new challenges.

According to them, Kenyan media and journalists have come under new and growing attack since the August 2022 General Election and the situation is worsening in what appears as a campaign to cripple independent media and individual journalists through a combination of commercial, verbal and physical attacks. Targeted are media and journalists perceived to be real or imagined critics of the new administration with reports that independent media houses are under pressure to fire certain journalists and employees.

The Café further heard that the government was withholding payments owed to independent media through the Government Advertisement Agency (GAA), causing financial difficulties leading to crippling of operations, jobs losses for some journalists and non-payment for others. The government owes over Euro 15.7 million to one such media house. This coupled with industry disruptions due to technological revolutions and entry of new players, has led to decline in the quality of journalism, shrinking revenues and the deteriorating welfare of journalists and other media employees.

Eric Oduor, Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary General, was worried that the bread and butter debate is affecting performance and professionalism, “labour, and more specifically the welfare of journalists and media workers, must now take the center stage in the media sustainability and professional growth conversations. For decades, journalism has been regarded as a craft in which journalists need no salary structures and other financial support required to facilitate their work.”

In her keynote Prof. Nancy Booker, Associate Professor and Interim Dean at the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications, singled out the need to deepen democratic reforms in order to enable the media to perform its professional role effectively. “For the media sector to thrive in performing its roles in any democracy, there is need for the support that extends beyond training,” noted Prof. Booker.

FNF is now considering working with the Kenya Media Sector Working Group, which brings together over 30 media associations in Kenya, to follow up on interventions needed to address the threats and concerns. All the associations were represented at the FNF Freedom Café held on November 25, 2022.