Although guaranteed by the 2010 constitution, respect for press freedom in Kenya is highly dependent on the political and economic context. A Pakistani journalist’s murder in Kenya in October 2022 highlighted the dangers that media personnel face in this country.
The Kenyan broadcasting sector is rich and diverse, with more than 100 radio stations and nearly 50 TV channels. Royal Media Services is the biggest privately owned broadcast media group, with 14 radio stations and three TV channels, Citizen TV being the most popular. The print media are much less developed, with just four daily newspapers dominating the market. The Nairobi-based Nation Media Group dominates the media landscape in Kenya and East Africa.
Much of the media is owned by politicians or people close to the government. William Ruto’s election as president in August 2022 marked the start of a difficult period for the media, with the heads of major press groups, including the Nation Media Group, and leading media outlets, such as the Daily Nation, being fired as a result of political pressure.The authorities are able to influence the appointment of media managers and editors, and those in charge of the media regulator, which is portrayed as independent but in reality depends directly on the government. This strong governmental presence encourages self-censorship.
Freedom of the press is enshrined in the constitution, but the 20 or so laws regulating journalism in Kenya include many provisions that challenge press freedom’s basic principles. The 2018 Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act, for example, provides for sentences of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 40,000 euros for the dissemination of “fake news” liable to incite violence. Access to state-held information is still very difficult despite the adoption of a law on the subject.
Senior Ruto government officials treat certain media outlets as political tools. No measure has been taken to improve the economic environment of the media as a whole. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, at least 300 journalists were laid off and music replaced news programmes on many radio stations, according to the Kenyan journalists’ union. The process by which state aid is allocated to the media is opaque.
Ethnicity is often linked to political loyalties and plays a big role in Kenyan journalism. Journalists are sometimes promoted – or sidelined – in news organisations on the basis of their ethnicity. Stories relating to national security, terrorism, religion or the trafficking in drugs, arms or human beings can be very sensitive, and journalists who have covered those subjects have sometimes had to ask for protection.
Well-known Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif’s murder in Kenya in October 2022 has brought the issue of journalists’ safety to the forefront. Covering opposition events or portraying the ruling party and its problems in a negative light can also be costly for journalists. Election campaigns are often accompanied by a major resurgence in abuses against journalists, who may be subjected to physical attacks by both the police and members of the public, intimidation campaigns, threats from politicians, and confiscation of their equipment by the police. Investigations into abuses against journalists rarely result in convictions.