Although guaranteed by the 2010 constitution, respect for press freedom in Kenya is highly dependent on the political and economic context.
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 diverse, with just two daily newspapers dominating the market. The Nairobi-based Nation Media Group towers over the media landscape in Kenya and nearby East African countries.
Many media are owned by politicians or people close to the government. 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.
Press freedom 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.
Kenyan journalists operate in a very challenging economic environment that worsened during the pandemic. According to the Kenyan journalists’ union, as a direct consequence of the pandemic, 300 journalists were laid off and news was replaced by music on many radio programmes. The process by which state aid is allocated to the media is opaque.
Ethnicity is often linked to political views 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.
Covering opposition events or portraying the ruling party and its problems in a negative light can 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.