Kenya falls short on promises for press freedom

New CPJ report finds worsening climate for journalists in traditionally open Kenya

New York, July 15, 2015–A combination of legal and physical harassment, as well as concentration in media ownership, makes it increasingly difficult for journalists to work freely in Kenya, according to “Broken promises: How Kenya is failing to uphold its commitment to a free press,” a report released today by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The restrictions on Kenya’s media come at a time when public discourse and transparency are essential, in light of hefty government spending on infrastructure and development, recent high-profile terrorist attacks, and the ongoing indictment of the deputy president by the International Criminal Court. The report comes ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama to the region.

“Freedom of the press is guaranteed in the Kenyan constitution, but President Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition is actively introducing bills that threaten to counteract those guarantees,” said Sue Valentine, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “We urge the president to foster a culture of media freedom, recognizing the value of free discourse and flow of information on issues such as development, terrorism, and corruption.”

With a growing economy and ample investment, Kenya is often considered a site of stability and openness among more repressive neighbors like Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. But Kenya’s subtle methods of controlling the media are effective. The report details how journalists self-censor coverage of development projects because exposure of corruption or land-grabbing can lead to harassment and violence. Attacks on journalists in Kenya happen with almost complete impunity, CPJ found.

Reporting on the government’s response to the terror threat in Kenya is also hampered by proposed or enacted legislation restricting coverage of defense issues and the handling of classified information. The legislation appears to be a response to negative foreign and local coverage of Kenya’s security operations in the wake of recent deadly attacks by militants.

The concentration of media ownership also threatens objective reporting on key issues, as leading politicians and businesspeople, some of whom own media outlets, use their influence to quash stories, the report found. Journalists working for one of the many outlets owned by powerful officials with political agendas find themselves unable to report critically on government policies. Independent online outlets have sprung up to offer a counter-narrative, but with them has grown the government’s desire to control the online space.

The report was authored by Valentine and CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. It includes first-hand accounts from Kenyan journalists; a selection of cartoons by Godfrey “Gado” Mwampembwa; and CPJ’s recommendations to Kenyan authorities, the Media Council of Kenya, and local media organizations.

The report will be presented by the authors and CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon at a press conference today at 9:30 a.m. East Africa Time/0630 GMT in the Frangipani room, Serena Hotel in Nairobi.