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State seeks to limit press freedom as it feels intimidated by robust media

KENYA
By David Ohito | May 4th 2016
Journalists in Eldoret town light candles to honour fallen veteran journalist John Kituyi who was assassinated last year. Continued harassment of journalists in the course of their work and bold attacks by police officers, political goons and even online bullying continue to be reported.  (PHOTO: PETER MAIYO/ STANDARD)

The recent threats to freedom of press in Kenya stem from a robust media that unnerves the Government.

Although Kenya is partly considered a country with free media environment, journalists still face many threats.

While there is no single journalist behind bars, Kenya is among countries that still have criminal libel embedded in its laws.

Continued harassment of journalists in the course of their work and bold attacks by police officers, political goons and even online bullying continue to be reported.

The TV industry suffered a setback in the transition to digital migration when three stations went off air in a tussle with the regulator. They incurred losses estimated at more than Sh500 million.

Today, the Kenya Editors Guild, Kenya Union of Journalists and Kenya Correspondents Association together with media owners are planning to petition the Constitutional Court over fresh attempts to impose hurdles on programming codes by the Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB) and Programming Code by the Communication Authority (CA).

Blocking revenues

Such hurdles, announced by KFCB CEO Ezekiel Mutua and the CA, have the potential of blocking revenue streams to TV stations by outlawing adverts.

Director of Article 19 East Africa Henry Maina says the Communications Authority and KFCB should refer all questions related to professional ethics and good practices to the Media Council of Kenya.

The appetite to pass draconian laws in Kenya by the National Assembly is worrying.

In just over three years, there have been several attempts to pass clauses which would impede a free media and reverse gains made over time.

Experts are concerned with amendments to Standing Orders regarding media activities in the precincts of Parliament, proposed by the joint Parliamentary Committee on Broadcasting and Library.

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They want the Senate and National Assembly to reject these proposals and uphold the freedom and independence of the media, as articulated in Article 34 of Kenya’s Constitution.

“We call upon Parliament to reject the proposed amendments to the standing orders. They are not in the public interest and if passed, they will unjustifiably limit freedom of expression, which is already under severe pressure in Kenya,” said Mr Maina.

Kenyans yesterday marked the World Press Freedom Day with a dark cloud hanging over free media.

Special date

The special date is meant to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

Unesco leads the worldwide celebration by identifying the global theme and organising the main event in different parts of world every year.

According to Freedom House, several anachronistic laws remained on the books in Kenya in 2014.

“The 1967 Preservation of Public Security Act gives the president sweeping powers to censor, control, or prohibit information that is deemed a security risk.

The majority of libel and defamation cases are tried under civil law, but defamation is still a criminal offence under the penal code. Observers argue that the mere possibility of criminal defamation charges is often used to intimidate journalists,” a report of the Freedom House says.

Several bloggers and netizens have been arrested and arraigned before court.

There are many dangerous topics for journalists to cover. Just accessing and covering the Dandora dumpsite remains one of the most tricky assignments. Journalists have been harassed and killed while dozens have been robbed of equipment.

Covering cattle rustling remains a big challenge as the cartels behind the big business of selling meat want to protect their turf.

Counties and the 47 governors have become too sensitive to criticism. They withhold advertisements and delay payments for services offered in a bid to arm twist the media.

The national government through the new monster called the Government Advertising Agency seeks to dictate and cap advertising from ministries and State corporations.

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