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“Journalism under attack in Kenya”
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“Journalism under attack in Kenya”

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Ajibola Adigun

In this guest contribution, Ajibola Adigun of Nigeria outlines concerns about legislation threatening freedom of the media, an institution that has been described as the guardian of democratic rights. 

In a desperate attempt to avoid criticism, members of the Kenyan Parliament have resorted to attacking the press.

Kenyan journalists are being forced to endure costly lawsuits or withhold the truth, and as a result, the Kenyan press is gradually being suppressed.

A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) provides an insight into the current situation in Kenya. After interviewing more than a dozen journalists, and reviewing published accounts, the CPJ found that Kenyan reporters, editors, and publishers are exposed to threats of violence, prosecution, imprisonment, and the withdrawal of crucial advertising revenue. The media is manipulated by dominant corporations, and news outlets are subject to the whims of their politician-owners, and the publishers who want to cozy up to power.

The government’s overbearing influence and its continual intrusion into newsgathering and dissemination has hindered the progress that a free press could have brought to the country.

The government also appears to exercise influence over Kenyan newsrooms through the major commercial companies that control the advertising market. Murithi Mutiga, a freelance journalist and Nation columnist verified this when he stated: “We remain a society where the government is still the dominant player, the biggest advertiser, and wields control through this influence”.

Standard Group’s David Ohito adds that major corporations can plant stories, influence editorial decisions, and even ask that stories be dropped. “You will now see things I never saw in my first decade of journalism—a group of CEOs walking into the editor’s office,” he said. “That sort of formalizing intimidation of newsrooms has become normal.”

The Kenyan government continues to deny its invasion into press matters. However, since the start of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition in 2013, several laws have been drafted and some passed that undermine the media’s self-regulation. These laws allow for heavy fines, restrict the handling of classified information, and will impede reporters’ access to Parliament. They have been passed despite the provisions of Kenya’s 2010 constitution, which specify that the state shall not “exercise control over or interfere with any person engaged in broadcasting, the production or circulation of any publication or the dissemination of information by any medium,” or “penalize any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination.”

The bill passed on October 15, 2015, is a case in point. Section 34 of the Powers and Privileges Committee dictates that a person who publishes any false or scandalous libel on Parliament, its committees or its proceedings, or speaks words defamatory of the House is liable to a fine or jail term. It also states that a person convicted of an offence under the Act for which no penalty is provided shall be liable on conviction to pay a fine not exceeding 5,000 US dollars, or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years, or both.

Members of the Parliament have claimed that they are only protecting themselves from being publicly ridiculed in the media. But destroying press freedom is not the answer. As Winston Churchill once said, “A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny”.

The repressive laws enacted by the Kenyan Parliament will promote corruption, and enable widespread impunity for those in power. Compromising access to information in Kenya will damage democracy and provide politicians and media-controllers alike with a powerful instrument of injustice.

If government finds itself annoyed by criticism from the press, it should examine its own conduct. Because without a free press, there can be no free society.

Photo credit: Image URI: http://mrg.bz/L2nKvM

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This guest article was contributed by Ajibola Adigun. He is a Young Voices Advocate, and an Executive Board Member of African Students For Liberty.

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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/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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