Freedom of Press Under Siege in Kenya

Kenya’s 18 point drop in the recently released 2014 World Press Freedom Index rankings from Reporters Without Borders constitutes one of the larger year over year drops in the report. The drop is largely due to a newly enacted law that establishes a special media court to oversee print and broadcast media and impose punitive fines on reporters and media houses that infringe upon media conduct rules. The net result is a cutback in press freedoms and a breach of constitutional protections granted to Kenyans and Kenyan journalists in the 2010 constitution.

The new Kenya Information and Communications Bill was passed in early December as a result of the media fallout following the Westgate Mall attacks last September. The attacks, which saw militant gunmen lay siege to the shopping center for three days, created a global media frenzy. One popular investigative news program ran an hour-long program that showed Kenyan security forces carrying bags of merchandise from a Nakumatt (a popular Kenyan grocery chain). In response to the program the government of Kenya lashed out at the producers of the show and the station that aired the program and even threatened arrest for drumming up anti-Kenyan “propaganda” and inciting people with “hate speech.” The government reaction ultimately led to the formulation and passage of the Information and Communications Bill and the Media Council Bill despite outcry from the Kenyan media and civil society organizations.

Even though the military launched an investigation following the accusations of looting, and even punished soldiers found guilty, it is extremely regrettable that the reporting of the looting led to a rollback of press freedoms in the country. Fortunately, the Kenyan media scored an early victory this month in its attempts to fight back against the new media laws. The situation remains fluid and worth keeping up with.

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2 Responses to Freedom of Press Under Siege in Kenya

  1. sorensond says:

    Reading this in conjunction with a blog by Freedom House (accessed at http://www.freedomhouse.org/blog/authoritarian-contagion-africa#.UwJnI_ldW6M) is interesting as the author seems to think that Kenya’s law is actually part of a larger pattern. The lack of challenges by the international community to other repressive trends in the region might play a role in changing the political calculus of elites who are looking to restrict press freedoms within their own country. At the same time, would international pressure on Kenya make any difference at the moment given pressure between Kenyan political leaders and international actors?

  2. Thanks for sharing that, I didn’t come across it when writing my article. I am not entirely sure international pressure work in this context as there are numerous recent examples of crackdowns on press in the interest of security across the globe that Kenya could point to. For example, the whole shake down of the AP for phone records to find out who leaked information to them. As it stands, civil society groups are challenging the elites in Kenya and it’ll be interesting to see how that all plays out.

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