Uhuru Kenyatta

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Blog   |   CPJ, Kenya

Mission Journal: Will Obama's visit boost hopes for press freedom in Kenya?

Billboards at Nairobi's airport welcome Barack Obama to Kenya. (CPJ/Sue Valentine)

President Barack Obama is expected to address a range of topics when he arrives in Kenya tomorrow. The Kenyan government says it plans to discuss security and trade, while opposition parties and civil society want good governance and human rights added to the agenda, according to news reports. We hope the discussion includes the commitments to improve press freedom that the Kenyan government made to CPJ last week.

On July 15, we released our special report, "Broken Promises: How Kenya is failing to uphold its commitment to a free press," in Nairobi to a room full of more than 50 Kenyan and foreign journalists. The report found that a combination of legal and physical harassment, as well as concentration in media ownership, is making it increasingly difficult for journalists to work freely in Kenya.

Reports   |   Kenya

Broken promises

Introduction

On April 18, two journalists arrived near a state-owned ranch in Tana River County in southeast Kenya to investigate residents’ claims that local paramilitary police had impounded a large herd of cattle for allegedly trespassing and were demanding bribes to release the animals. Before the journalists got out of their car, about 15 officers attacked them, beating them with wooden clubs and metal rods, according to one of the journalists, news reports, and video footage of the attack. Both journalists were hospitalized, one with a broken leg.

Reports   |   Kenya

Broken promises

1. How media ownership and advertising curb critical reporting

Attempts to control the media in Kenya date back to at least 1929, with transmission of the first radio signal by the British East African Broadcasting Corporation, which served the interests of the colonial government. Throughout the country’s history, including independence in 1963 and the end of one-party rule in 1992, the press has largely served the interests of those in power, with leaders expecting loyalty and support, Kenyan media scholar Wilson Ugangu wrote in an essay published this year.

Reports   |   Kenya

Broken promises

2. Media contend with lawsuits, restrictive bills, legal limbo

Instead of passing new legislation in keeping with the new constitution’s guarantees for freedom of the press, the government has introduced a series of laws that undermine self-regulation and allow for harsh fines and even jail terms for journalists who commit perceived transgressions.

Reports   |   Kenya

Broken promises

3. Critical journalists silenced by threats of arrest or violence

Harassment of the press from official quarters does not begin or end with the passage of troublesome legislation. Journalists say they are routinely threatened, intimidated, and even attacked, and that government authorities are the culprit more often than not.

Reports   |   Kenya

Broken promises

Sidebar: Press phobia

By Argwings Odera

Journalists with foreign media credentials are finding it increasingly difficult to gain accreditation for covering events involving President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Reports   |   Kenya

Broken promises

Sidebar: Covering the International Criminal Court

By Robert Wanjala

When the International Criminal Court (ICC) began its investigations into the 2007-2008 post-election violence that killed over 1,000 people, it had wide public support. Kenyans desperately wanted to see justice for the atrocities that followed the disputed presidential election results in December 2007.

Reports   |   Kenya

Broken promises

Conclusion

The late political scientist Joel D. Barkan wrote in 2013: “Kenya is the anchor of eastern Africa and the region’s geopolitical and economic hub; conditions there determine the region’s stability, security, and prosperity.” Though Kenya’s 2010 constitution sought to ensure that the country’s media and its information, communications, and technology sectors develop and thrive, there are worrying signs that old efforts to control the media are undermining this freedom through the passage of poorly drafted and restrictive legislation, commercial pressures, and threats and attacks on individual journalists and bloggers.

Reports   |   Kenya

Broken promises

Corruption, the government, and press freedom are frequent subjects for Godfrey "Gado" Mwampembwa, a political cartoonist in East and Central Africa. Gado, whose work appears in The Nation and other Kenyan and international newspapers, shares a selection of cartoons on the 2013 Kenyan election and problems facing the country's press.

Blog   |   Journalist Assistance, Kenya

Forced to flee false perceptions, ICC, and Kenyan press

Omwa Ombara left Kenya for the United States. (CPJ)

EDITOR'S NOTE: February 15, 2014 marked one year since Omwa Ombara arrived in the U.S. to seek political asylum after attempts on her life in Kenya between May and December 2012. She fled her native land after being contacted by International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators probing the violence that followed the Kenyan elections in 2007-2008, in which more than 1,000 people were killed, according to news reports. Ombara was never a witness, nor did she ever meet any ICC investigators, but the mere suspicion that she was participating in the ICC process prompted a spate of threats. She describes her own ordeal and the culture of silence that has settled over most of the Kenyan media. CPJ's Journalist Assistance program supported Ombara throughout her ordeal.

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