Press freedom under siege in Kenya

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Threats, attacks to blame for drop in media freedom

by Collins Omulo

Media freedom has declined in the past one year owing to threats, intimidation and attacks on journalists by security forces, politicians and hired goons.

The country fell one place in the latest World Press Freedom Index ranking released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) last month, from position 95 to 96.

This has been attributed to routine attacks, intimidation and threats that journalists from security forces, politicians and their supporters due to coverage related to the 2017 General Election.

‘These developments do not augur well for media freedom, and especially for the ability of media practitioners to perform their duties,’ said Media Council of Kenya chief executive officer, Mr Omwoyo, ahead of the marking of World Press Freedom Day today in Accra, Ghana. This is the first time the global commemoration fete is being held in Africa.

Mr Omwoyo said media independence – which includes autonomy of media professionals from political, commercial and other interests in editorial decisions and coverage – in Kenya is still a mirage despite media freedom being anchored in various laws such as the Constitution, Media Council of Kenya Act, 2013, Kenya Information and Communication Act (2013) and Freedom of Information Act (2016).

The legal environment for media in Kenya is anchored in the Constitution under articles 34, 35 and 36.

Omwoyo also criticised the formation of the Government Advertising Agency (GAA), as the sole media buying agency for the public sector, saying this is an affront to media independence, given that the public sector comprising ministries, departments, agencies, universities and other enterprises is one of the largest spenders on advertising.

He added that the development has resulted in a change in the way newsrooms operate, relying more on freelance journalists and correspondents who are paid less than staff journalists.

He said there was a harsh economic environment and declining media revenues.

This has had a negative effect on the quality of stories because freelancers and correspondents may not give sufficient time to stories due to the “pay-per-article” model.

Shared from Daily Nation, Kenya

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