Drop in Global Press freedom ranking for Kenya a cause for concern

This year, Kenya has been ranked 102 in the Reporters Without Borders global press freedom index.

In Summary

•The amendments must also conform to the Constitution of Kenya Article 34 (4). The public Service Broadcaster envisioned should be fully funded but insulated from government interference and control.

•In addition, industry players have called for the enactment of a law that create a media diversity fund to be drawn from a basket fund supported by Government and the industry. This fund should be exclusively invested in media to cultivate a robust ecosystem.

Oppression of journalists
Oppression of journalists
Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED

Kenya’s press freedom rating among peers has dropped radically in this year. Individual behavior by public officers is standing in the way of Kenya’s progressive Bill of rights being recognized globally.

Despite Kenya having one of the best Bill of rights globally, and first time including provisions on press freedom and access to information through Articles 33, 34 and 35 and subsequent Acts, by global standards, the country is still rated poorly.

We always immediately dismiss such global assessments, and say we are a foreign country, and how others view us does not matter.

However such issues matter, and especially when the country is working hard to influence both regional and global matters and want to attract international investors and partners.

This year, Kenya has been ranked 102 in the Reporters Without Borders global press freedom index, among the worst ranking in the recent past.

And the reasons for the poor ranking, is largely because retaining retrogressive laws in our statute books, which are rarely used including the Books and Newspaper Act, poor proactive disclosure of information especially to the media, especially on key issues, both at the national and county levels and, draconian administrative codes and bad behavior by public officers in relation to how they mistreat the mishandle the media.

Another reason cited for the poor ranking is blocked journalism like what is happening between the government and the Royal Media Services relating to a story aired by the station.

Even if Kenyan established its own rating scale on press freedom and media development, the same challenges will be picked out; for the media industry players have through several engagements, including through the Building Bridges Initiative process and direct engagement with the Government and relevant Parliamentary Committee raised the same issues that the RFS report is citing in the index.

A report by the International Peace Institute in 2020, noted that the state of press freedom globally has gone down, as some governments were including sweeping media control measures alongside COVID-19 containment measures.

The report cited Africa as among regions where increased arrests, censorship and physical attacks have escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as government used the crisis to revive or activate very stringent laws to harass journalists or deny them information on the COVID 19 preparation status, vaccine availability or deny the media basic information on funds use in relation to the pandemic.

Stakeholders in the media sector have previously raised a few legislative issues that constraint the realization of an independent media.

They have raised the issue of the need for the state to develop a state /public advertising law to regulate the operations of the Government Advertising Agency (GAA).

They called for a fair and transparent process that takes it account known and predictable parameters such as target audience, reach, demographics etc. Industry players have proposed a comprehensive review of Penal Code including sections 40 (1); 66; 66A; 67; 96; 194-200; touching in different issues but unduly limit freedom must be repealed.

In addition and to actualize the 2010 Constitutional requirement on having a public broadcaster, players proposed the amendment of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Act to make KBC a public service media with a remit to develop programmes that espouse national ethos, values and culture.

The amendments must also conform to the Constitution of Kenya Article 34 (4). The public Service Broadcaster envisioned should be fully funded but insulated from government interference and control.

In addition, industry players have called for the enactment of a law that create a media diversity fund to be drawn from a basket fund supported by Government and the industry. This fund should be exclusively invested in media to cultivate a robust ecosystem.

In addition the Supreme Court ruling on the functional differences assigned to the various bodies regulating media in Kenya, the sector has called for the resolution of the regulatory multiplicity within the media sector that has exposed the sector to suffering double or triple jeopardy in many cases of violation of the code of ethics for the practice of journalism.

Others laws that require urgent relook include the Books and Newspapers Act be repealed in its entirety, the Computer misuse and cybercrimes Act, national security, official secrets Act, the Archives and Documentation Act, among others.

They suggested that the country needs to keep a publicly available frequency management plan exists and clearly lists all companies and individuals with radio frequencies per geographical location, establishment of a special prosecution unit to deal with impunity and crimes against journalists, work on developing regulations to the Access to Information Act, 2016, the formalization of the National Mechanisms for safety of and protection of Journalists and development of requisite regulations to operationalize the Data Protection Act, 2019 and the Access to Information Act, 2016.

The UN Action Plan on the safety of and Impunity Against Journalists talks about the implementation of an integrated approach focusing on Promotion, Protection and Prosecution (the 3 Ps) in creating an environment for improved media freedom and safety of journalists.

We as a country must care and be concerned about this drop in our press freedom ranking. Laws remaining in our statute books that impede free and independent media must be reviewed or removed. Public officers must at all times allow due process to take place whenever a complaint against the media arises.