As the Press Freedom Day was marked yesterday, media practitioners took stock of the gains and drawbacks in the industry. A free Press is a prerequisite for strong democracy and this underpins the importance of a society such as Kenya to re-evaluate how the media is performing as a measure of how democratic our society is, or not.
From a global perspective, Kenya has been cited as one of the best models of media independence since it is operations are anchored in the Constitution. However, the media should not celebrate just yet. Parliament is not prohibited from ever passing laws limiting freedom of the Press. The media is still operating in an intimidating environment where threats to individual journalists have been reported this year. The prevailing economic conditions too present a threat to the media and the practitioners, some of whom work on contractual basis.
The Kenya Union of Journalists, one of the bodies championing media freedom, has voiced concerns over journalists deprived of some of the most basic provisions contrary to the Employment Act.
And while one of the chief violators of journalists’ right to seek information has been the police, working on instructions of the Executive, there are fears this threat seems to have been devolved to the county governments. Some county governments when put to task to explain how they were spending public money, have resorted to brutalising journalists and withholding advertising to media houses critical of their deeds.
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It is also of concern that the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) is threatened with auctioning of its assets unless it pays its creditors. Should this happen it will be a big blow to the media fraternity. Privately owned media houses are also facing huge challenges caused by competing political, government and commercial interests. The Government has been wielding its influence by withholding advertisements and payment to express its displeasure whenever the media portrays it in unflattering light.