Press freedom is a fundamental right. It is the cornerstone of an open, free and transparent democracy that promotes the exchange of ideas, knowledge and information. But it is under threat in Kenya and it is a matter of concern for journalists, media practitioners and other citizens.
Kenya has a vibrant media landscape, with numerous independent media outlets that provide diverse coverage of news and current affairs. However, the government has been accused of suppressing media freedom by harassing journalists, media outlets and editors critical of it. Its actions have had a chilling effect on the media with many journalists afraid to report on sensitive issues for fear of retribution.
One of the most significant threats to media freedom is the government’s use of legal mechanisms to suppress critical reporting. It has passed laws that criminalise defamation, which can affect journalists who report on sensitive issues or criticise it.
The government has also used cybercrime laws to arrest and detain journalists who report on sensitive issues, such as corruption or human rights violations. They have been harassed, threatened and assaulted by security forces, government officials or supporters of the ruling party. In some cases, the murder of such journalists has gone unsolved.
Some 25 local and international journalists have been targeted by both state and non-state actors since the onset of the Opposition-led mass protests on March 20. Twenty of the cases of attacks, harassment and arrest of journalists were documented on March 27 with the number rising to 25 on Thursday.
The government has withheld advertising revenue from media outlets critical of it, making it difficult for them to stay afloat. It has also placed restrictions on foreign funding to media outlets.
Lack of a free and independent press means the citizens do not have access to accurate information and are unable to hold the government to account. Kenya’s international image is also tarnished. The government ought to respect media freedom.
Mr Mwendwa is a communication and media technology student at Maseno University. [email protected].