CPJ Journalist Security Blog

Kenya


Should journalists expect support and protection from security agents when they risk their lives to report on security operations? What if their coverage could potentially expose military strategies? Why are journalists disparaged as unpatriotic when they show how security operations fail?

Kenyan journalists film outside the Westgate mall in September. (AFP/Carl de Souza)

Rumor had it that thieves and police had exchanged gunfire during the robbery of a bank at the Westgate Mall. That was the word that first reached some Nairobi newsrooms that Saturday about the gunshots many Kenyans heard coming from the luxurious shopping mall.

The working environment for journalists and media workers in Kenya is increasingly hostile, with at least 91 percent of journalists at local media outlets having faced security threats in the course of their work, a new study has revealed. The harassment of and attacks against journalists, with nearly 40 percent coming from politicians, indicates a need for urgent attention from both state and non-state actors if press freedom is to be guaranteed in the country.

A supporter of Raila Odinga, a presidential candidate who was defeated last week by Uhura Kenyatta. (AFP/Jennifer Huxta)

Amid a tense presidential election, Kenyans have avoided a repeat of the deadly violence that followed the vote in 2007, when half a million people were uprooted and more than 1,000 people were killed. Still, the situation today is fraught. Ethnic identity dominates the nation's political divisions--and those same loyalties can undermine solidarity in the press corps.

Kenyan Prime Minister and presidential candidate Raila Odinga waves to supporters at a campaign rally in Mombasa on Sunday. (Reuters/Joseph Okanga)

Election-related violence is a worry for journalists in many countries, but perhaps nowhere more so than Kenya, where presidential polls will be held March 4. In the aftermath of the nation's last presidential elections in 2007, over one thousand people were killed in ethnic and political violence, live news broadcasts were banned, and the press faced a torrent of threats, leading to widespread self-censorship. Already, in recent weeks, some journalists have been harassed and their equipment confiscated, while media houses have been threatened in relation to coverage.

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