Kenya's media freedom is under threat, and something must be done to save the industry.
Among the challenges are policy gaps, layoffs, limited media viability, and regime change through media.
Others include judicial gag orders, overlaps in regulation and statutory obligations, harassment by dishonest security officials and politicians, and the Government Advertising Agency (GAA).
The details are contained in a report released yesterday by the Kenya Media Sector Working Group (KMSWG) titled 'The State of Press Freedom in Kenya'
Cocktail of laws
Erick Oduor, secretary general of the Kenya Union of Journalists, said: "According to the survey, there is a cocktail of laws regulating the media, pushing journalists to self-censorship and submission to authorities.''
Oduor said there are about 22 different laws that are used against the media and journalists when powerful forces, including politicians, want to silence the media. "We call on the government to promote a professional, free and independent media," he said.
Oduor said there is a need to promote media professionalism and ethical conduct for the common good of society.
The report called upon the government and all its agencies to avoid any action that would undermine the guaranteed freedom of the media and would hurt the spirit of self-regulation.
"This goes specifically to the Attorney General, Justin Muturi, to stop interfering with the model we are using to regulate the media. We know from the advisory that the AG wants to return us back to State regulation," Oduor said.
He added that the AG issued an advisory last week to the selection panel regarding the Media Council of Kenya Board.
"The AG should keep off. The Media Council Act of 2013 stipulates who should be on the board of MCK and who should not. As it happens globally, journalists should regulate themselves just like doctors, accountants, and engineers do under their regulatory bodies," he said.
He spoke after a meeting organised by KUJ, the Kenya Editors Guild and Friedrich Naumann Foundation at a city hotel.
Kenya Editors Guild chief executive officer Rosalia Omungo said excessive defamation damages violate the right to media freedom.
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"The industry is concerned about the worrying trend where courts are issuing exorbitant damages in civil suits against media organisations and individual journalists,'' Omungo said.
New media policy
Association of Devolution Journalists chairperson Roseline Obala said there is a need for a new media policy since the one being applied was formulated in 2009.
"The policy will provide guidelines on the profession and the code of conduct, among other purposes," said Obala.
The report said the new Kenya Kwanza government has shown its disdain for the media over what it termed biased coverage in the run-up to the 2022 general election.
It urged media outlets to engage the government and discuss how to create a conducive business environment.
On gag orders, the report said the industry has experienced a worrying trend of gag orders, which if not dealt with can affect press freedom.