Unveiling Everyday struggles for democratic space in Kenya

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Kenya’s media has no much to celebrate about World Press Freedom Day. The safety of journalists covering sensitive stories and unearthing it to the public remains a big challenge in Kenya.

Without a doubt, Kenya has benefitted tremendously from media freedom and the freedom of expression. It is important to always recognise that these freedoms were hard-won, and that the sacrifices made by some of the heroes of the Fourth Estate are milestones in the country’s journey to our present dispensation.

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Although freedom is a necessary human good, it is a tragedy that in nearly all societies, it has been secured at great sacrifice. It is therefore critical that we spend this day in reflecting on our commitment to this freedom in our different capacities.

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The Government’s commitment to media freedom and expression is solid, evident and unshakeable. No one in our beautiful country may be punished for their opinion.

As long as we understand the totally reasonable limitations to the freedom of expression- like spreading hate and incitement and so on- we are all free to project our views as robustly as we like without having to look over our shoulders.

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Media houses are up to date struggling to be let free to broadcast or publish stories without any state interference. Though the Constitution provides for this freedom of access and disseminates information to the public, in reality it is not reflected. 

According to Macharia Gaitho, chairman of Kenya Editors Guild, as much as the President says he supports media freedom, his commitments and actions do not reflects the reality.. 

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Last year the world witnessed the unprecedented shutdown of four media houses by the government after the live coverage of the mock swearing-in of Nasa principal Raila Odinga as the People’s President.

This was the first of its kind in the history of Kenya excluding the digital migration dispute between media houses and the government in 2016.

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The government violated the rights enshrined in the 2010 Constitution after it switched off Royal Media Services’ Citizen TV and Inooro TV, Nation Media Group’s NTV and Standard Media Group’s KTN on January 30.

The state also went against the High Court’s decision to lift the ban a week later. Royal media had initially filed a case challenging the shut down, but withdrew the case after it was reopened on February 8.

While many blamed media owners for not speaking up against the shut down, no action was taken against the government.

“We need to weed out the ‘Githeri Media’ or ‘Fake News’ fallacy. These two phrases have been used by those who fear accountability to undermine media freedom. The Gazeti ni ya kufunga nyama mediocrity,” he added.

In Kenya, at least three cases of attacks on journalists is made every week in the country. Most of the reported attacks are by government officials.

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The abduction of NTV journalist Barack Oduor was among the most talked attacks of 2018. Oduor was kidnapped in Migori alongside the late Sharon Otieno. Her body was found dumped near a thicket in Homa Bay on September 4.

Freedom of media means both the freedom to disseminate topical material to the consumer, and the freedom to allow as many players as possible to do so.

Media freedom is not the property of tyrannical capitalist interests. It is not a gambit to deploy in politico-commercial interaction. It is a public good. The media should eradicate the in-house dynamics which hamper the realization of fuller freedom.

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