World Press Freedom: Sober reflection for sports journalism

Press Freedom

Journalists march during a peaceful procession to mark World Press Freedom Day in Kisii Town on May 03, 2022. 

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The past year has seen a worrying slide, with sports journalists struggling against poor pay, nefarious club owners like Muhoroni Youth’s Moses Adagala and racist coaches like AFC Leopards’ Patrick Aussems.

The life of a sports journalist is one that is idolised by many fans. Having personal access to star coaches, players and athletes, and producing content for a large following sounds good. But as the world marked the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom day, for sports journalists in Kenya, it was not a moment to celebrate.

The past year has seen a worrying slide, with sports journalists struggling against poor pay, nefarious club owners like Muhoroni Youth’s Moses Adagala and difficult coaches like AFC Leopards’ Patrick Aussems.

And that is before we even get to the challenges posed by AI and ChatGPT. The only good thing that happened to us this year is that there was a refreshing, long overdue change of guard at the Sports Journalists Association of Kenya.

This year alone, three journalists have been targets for abuse and derogatory remarks from coaches.  Many were laid off by different media houses due to the challenges the media is enduring across the world, while others continue to suffer silently from challenges we can neither see nor touch.

One such challenge is on mental health. Because of the fast paced nature of sports, journalists find themselves relaying information mainly on social media. Because of this, it becomes hard for them to completely switch off, which means that work and personal life are easily mixed, thereby compromising their psychological wellbeing.

The challenge of objectivity is another we cannot ignore. Reporters from other desks would rather die than openly show their allegiance when reporting on a contest between two sides.

But, it is common for the media corner at Nyayo Stadium to erupt in cheers and jeers when a Tusker FC player misses a one-on-one, or when Mwamba RFC wins a tournament.

Sports journalists today are encouraged to display their allegiances — hereby, sparking a new topic for debate. Does objectivity apply in sports journalism?

The other challenge is the general stagnation of the Kenyan sports industry. A decade ago, SuperSport was the dream destination for many, absorbing the crème de la crème of reporters and pundits.

Younger journalists had something to look up to, and as they waited for their turn to work with the South African broadcaster, they could get started at the many other sports media that were coming up at the time, including Kwese Sports,, Azam and Startimes TV. Today, the environment for journalism is considered “bad.” SuperSport left Kenya, Kwese folded, and the rest significantly reduced their operations.

The impact of this is that most of the highly qualified and ambitious sports journos have opted out of sports and into hard news reporting, which is considered more lucrative, and with more opportunities for growth.

This is good for the likes of Waihiga Mwaura, but it eventually hollows out and weakens the existing pool of sports journalists.

As we move into the future where AI and ChatGPT await, the pressure for journalists around the country to deliver high quality content will only increase. Are we prepared for this?