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“Censorship as antithetical to public interest”
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“Censorship as antithetical to public interest”

The media’s job is to challenge institutions on behalf of the public interest. But Aisha Anne Habiba, 27, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Mombasa in Kenya, raises concern about restrictions on media curtail that ability.

Media houses in Kenya are facing increasing pressure from ordinances that interfere with the concept of media freedom.

Though Kenya has enviable constitutional right to a free media, recent laws enacted by the Kenyan government have created a hostile regulatory, political and legal milieu, forcing journalists to adopt self censorship or ‘fiscing’ out of deference to controversial  legislation.

Curtailing measures range from subtle forms of censorship to imprisonment of journalists and bloggers. Media repression is also taking place through contentious anti-terror legislation and ever-spiralling complex pressures from conflict of interest by owners and advertisers that result in self-censorship.

In 2006, armed and hooded police elite raided two branches of the Kenya Television Network following an altercation between the media house and the government over a story it published regarding the former President Kibaki. The simultaneous invasion led to the temporary shut down of the leading media house as broadcasting equipment and newspapers were destroyed and confiscated. Journalists who were on duty were harassed and beaten, while some were detained in police custody.

After the deadly siege in Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall by Al-Shabaaab militia in 2013, where 69 people were brutally murdered, the Kenyan Parliament proposed punitive laws to further control the media. The memorandum proposed that the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal  dictate freedom of expression for journalists, ban broadcasting and publishing of images of injured or dead people and the imposition of fines and/or a three year jail term for anyone who would supposedly “undermine security operations”.

The opposition termed this as unwarranted and unconstitutional harassment of journalists, and the clauses were later suspended. If they had been passed as Bills, a quasi-government complaints commission would have been instituted to handle complaints against journalists.

Insufficient broadband availability impeded broadcasting services when the digital broadcasting spectrum was launched in 2015. Under heavy police armour, the Communications Authority of Kenya raided the transmission facilities of four leading media houses and switched off signals, disenfranchising the public right to receive information. The government was unwilling to adjudicate between  home-grown media houses and foreign firms, and instead insisted on universal digital set top boxes that would allow third parties to air their content at a price. The move sparked outrage from the public and political leaders as the media houses were not granted requisite time to prepare for the transition.

The government, in being determined to protect private interests, has abdicated its responsibility, oftentimes plunging the public into “information darkness”. Discrediting the reporting of journalists has become the norm rather than the exception in Kenya, as private interests place roadblocks on the work of journalists.

Kenya is already teetering on the brink as it is approaching yet another election: the trajectory of ethnic animosity is already being experienced. Moreover, the news of possible government-established guidelines for social media in the upcoming elections is hovering in the background.

photo credit: bionicteaching TV News camera and van via photopin (license)

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About me: Working as a Gender, Communications and Research Assistant at an NGO, my passion is to inspire positive and sustainable breakthrough in the livelihoods of vulnerable women and children dealing with diminished status. I am ardent about the eradication of poverty caused by gender inequality because I believe that poverty is sexist. My ultimate goal is to be the next Wangari Maathai, an activist-writer who would pioneer a women’s movement aimed at lobbying for improved socioeconomic rights for women.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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