Media ownership in Kenya. IMAGE: REBOOT PROGRAM
By PATRICK MAYOYO
Deep-rooted challenges inhibit Kenyan journalists from holding their government accountable a new research says.
The study adds the government has been, and continues to be, one of the media’s most determined opponents in Kenya.
The research commissioned by Omidyar Network to understand the current state of Kenyan media, and to identify opportunities to support independent media adds that Kenya has a long history of political interference in media, applied through a wide array of control tactics.
“These range from laws and regulations aimed at limiting press freedom to cooptation, harassment, and even violence,” reveals the report produced under the Reboot Media programme, which works shoulder-to-shoulder with journalists and media organizations and investors to design smart interventions.
Read the report here.
Media trends in Kenya. IMAGE: REBOOT PROGRAM
It emphasis that this is happening despite the 2010 Constitution providing for explicit protections for freedom of the press and fostering widespread optimism about the potential strengthening of media.
It adds that this optimism was challenged after the 2013 General Election that resulted in the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“At the time, he was facing charges by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged involvement in violence following the 2007 elections that left over 1,000 people dead. As a result of negative press coverage, many respondents felt strongly that the Jubilee administration began targeting media actors with an increasingly aggressive zeal,” it says.
Respondents believed that the Jubilee government implemented a strategic anti-press policy because it “blamed” the media and civil society organisations for the prolonging of the ICC trial.
Even after the ICC case was dropped, the Jubilee government did not relent in its efforts to undermine press freedom.
The Westgate terror attack on September 21, 2013 the study says enhanced a clamp down on the media.
“It first started as open threats to the media houses, then came out with a more refined communication strategy that both isolated reporters and then media houses,” a responded says.
The conflict with the media was again recently evidenced when the current Jubilee government took four television stations off the air after they refused to comply with State House orders17 not to cover the swearing-in of Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga.
In its efforts to limit press freedom, the state has employed many tactics, including, in some circumstances, violence and intimidation.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch and Article 19 documented a worrying trend of journalists intimidation.
“There has been an elaborate plan on the part of the state to downgrade media since 2013. It was a two-pronged approach to deal with the media and the International Criminal Court [case]. This plan has utilised various strategies including new media regulatory laws, institutions, direct intimidation, use of the courts and legal procedures to wear down journalists,” the report opines.
Most respondents believed the government’s approach was strategic, and its tactics expansive.
The media ownership in Kenya is also blamed for the falling journalism standards in the country.
For example the report shows, the media industry in Kenya is controlled by powerful political families and businessmen.
The government controls Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) and Kenya News Agency (KNA), while the Nation Media Group is controlled by His Highness the Aga Khan and is a publicly listed company, the Standard Media Group which is also publicly listed is linked to the retired President Daniel arap Moi’s family.
Supporting independent media in Kenya today will require helping journalists, publishers, and media entrepreneurs overcome the political and economic pressures that limit their ability to report freely. IMAGE: REBOOT PROGRAM
Media Max Ltd which publishes Kenya’s only free newspaper People Daily and owns K24 television and numerous radio stations is owned by President Kenyatta’s family.
While Royal Media Services which owns Citizen TV and numerous radio stations is controlled by businessman S.K.Macharia while Radio Africa that owns The Star newspaper and various radio stations is associated with businessman Kirono Kitony.
One civil society respondent believed “there is no distinction between politicians and media. Politicians or their cronies own the media, which is a big challenge. Corporations who buy advertising also have links to politicians and will exert pressure on the media.”
This research details these challenges, and was created for both media actors and investors. The goal is to inspire innovation in the Kenyan media sector, and drive conversation around addressing barriers to independent and effective media.
How research was conducted
The research took place over three weeks in July 2017. The research team conducted more than 65 semi-structured, in-person interviews, each lasting more than an hour. Media actors with a wide range of profiles represented about half of the research sample, and included experts with a long history working in establishment media organizations as well as freelancers trying to find their voice in a saturated market. The second half of the research sample consisted of citizens, civil society organizations, and government officials. Research teams spent time with these actors outside of the media industry in order to gain a holistic understanding of how media currently operates and is perceived in Kenya.
Geographic & Sector Focus
The research was largely based in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi and its surrounding peri-urban areas. The capital was chosen because of its proximity to both the media industry and government actors; however, as Kenya is primarily a rural country, confining the research to Nairobi created a few constraints. For one, while the team sought to speak to a variety of actors specializing in a range of mediums (radio, television, publication, and digital), the sample has a slight leaning towards published and digital mediums. Additionally, this research offers a landscape overview, but no detailed study of the performance of individuals or organizations. Beyond the scope of this research, there is much more to examine outside of Nairobi, specifically with the devolution of government powers to the county level in relative infancy. For example, vernacular radio, which primarily operates locally, is covered lightly in this research, but deserves its own study entirely. Assessing the impact of digital (or lack thereof) in suburban and rural areas is another important area for future research.
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Nelson Mandela once said: “A critical, independent, and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”
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