Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kenya: Post-election Violence Leads to Press Censorship

By: Jane Lonsdale
Edited by: Aisha Mohammed

Some U.S. citizens often take for granted the basic freedoms afforded to us by merely being raised in the United States. The First Amendment entitles everyone in the United States the right to free speech, which is more than a privilege for media institutions across the nation. However, it is not guaranteed in some other countries, such as Kenya. Although Kenya has promulgated a right to the freedom of expression, it has experienced recent censorship and muzzle of the media due to post-election violence. This also comes in response to reports in 2007 of the intimidation of journalists by government officials and the suspicion that certain radio stations promote ethnic hatred and division. Kenya is listed as 60th in World rankings and only partly free by the Freedom House’s press freedom ratings.

In 2009, President Mwai Kibaki signed the Kenya Communications Amendment Act of 2008 into law. This was a revision from the previous act of 1998. The new law allows the government to raid media institutions and ultimately control what content is distributed to the public.

Organizations such as the Kenyan Union of Journalists were opposed to the Act, saying that it was an infringement on freedom of the press and gave the government too much authority. Tervil Okoko, a former chairman of the Kenyan Union of Journalists and now Regional Coordinator for the Eastern African Journalists Association spoke about journalism before and after the law. “Prior to this amendment, the media existed in a state of laissez-faire. There was not total disregard to ethics, but there was lesser sensitivity. Now there are standards of programs which are determined by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK).”

This Commission is a media licensing organization which regulates much of the broadcast content in the country. Okoko says that the CCK is not made up of professional journalists or editors, but rather government-appointed ministers. Prior to governmental authority, the Media Council of Kenya, which is made up of a variety of media professionals, was responsible for content and the conduct of journalists. “[The CCK] is robbing the Media Council of Kenya of its authority,” says Okoko. Many advocates against the law feel that the danger of all of this is that broadcasters are used to easily manipulate public opinion.

Some people say the Kenyan government has an influence on what is produced in the media. Kenyan native, Solomon Maingi is studying in the United States. He says he is an avid reader of Kenyan newspapers such as The Daily Nation and The Standard. Maingi says “Kenya has a very vibrant media, but the government can sometimes use the media as a political platform.” When asked what type of news is regularly featured on the front page of most newspapers, Maingi replied “politics.”

Kenya continues to provide its citizens with a wealth of information from various media outlets in the form of print, broadcast, and online resources. Despite open controversy to the media law and previous complimentary laws, Kenya still remains one of the most stable and free countries within Africa. With that being said, international journalists are still held accountable under the law when working in the country. Such stipulations that apply to international broadcasters are that no broadcast of public views on national issues can occur without a person’s consent. Anyone used for an interview must be informed and advised of the intentions and possible impact of the interview on national peace and tranquility. This also applies to live broadcasts. If these rules are not followed, journalists are subject to consequences from the government and could be criminally charged.

Photos from BBC and Internews

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