The role of the media in promoting good governance in Kenya has been key in enhancing a vibrant and functioning society.
Today, Kenya, has one of the strongest, daring and freest media in Africa. Over the years the media have churned out exposes on corruption, nepotism, impunity, human rights abuses and mismanagement of public and national resources.
However, most Kenyan journalists suffer from lack of resources essential in conducting professional and quality work.
A report by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) titled: Guarding the Guardian, Reflection on Media Coverage of Governance states that most journalists are wary of harassment and the recent media laws have worsened their working conditions. “Some 68% of respondents interviewed by MCK indicated that the recent media laws, especially the Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment Act, 2013) and clauses, fines and penalties therein, prevent journalists from properly and adequately investigating and reporting issues of governance.”
Respondents indicated that political threats, intimidation, censorship and attacks on the media and journalists hinder investigative journalism and free reporting on governance.
Among those interviewed, 57% felt that the State broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) had failed to report objectively on governance issues. KBC was also accused of failing to report on accountability within government.
Yet 40% of journalists interviewed revealed that they had used surreptitious news gathering techniques including hidden cameras and microphones to obtain information on bad governance.
The visit to Kenya by US President Barrack Hussein Obama, on July 24, 2015, brought into sharp focus the role of the media in society.
President Obama, whose father the late Barrack Hussein Obama Senior was a Kenyan citizen from K’Ogelo village in Siaya County, made history as the first African American to become the US president and also the first president of the powerful nation to visit Kenya. His visit, however, came in the backdrop of insecurity fears, concerns about terrorism and national debate on taming corruption.
Kenya, has suffered a series of terror attacks from the Al-Shabaab terror group which springs from the heart of war-torn Somalia. President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta was confronted by terrorism barely five months after taking office when terrorists besieged the Westgate Shopping Mall at the heart of the Kenyan capital city, Nairobi. At least 67 people were killed in the attack.
Both the Kenyan and global media, therefore, while reporting on the Obama visit, focused attention heavily around security matters.
Media and social chesion
The media have the potential to deepen divides by offending cultures or belief systems of other people, groups or individuals.
The media have a role to maintain and facilitate a cohesive society, which requires that journalists should, during their tour of duty, strive to promote social cohesion, intercultural and religious tolerance.
In its 2014 report; Deconstructing Terror, the Media Council of Kenya says: “Regrettably, the entrepreneurial tendencies of many media organisations and propensity to sell more papers and attract more advertising, have been considered a dominant feature of media framing of Islam and terrorism. This has pushed accuracy, balance and objectivity to the back seat as economic drivers become prioritised.”
The MCK study reveals that the media coverage of terror, religious extremism and radicalisation perpetuated the narrative that depicted people of Somali extraction as potential terrorists. By using bloody pictures and scary scenes, the media sparked off emotions in their inability to separate fact from commentary.
The MCK findings indicate that some media houses have promoted healthy dialogue on critical issues of the war on terror, radicalisation and religious intolerance.
The report says that because of the imbalanced media reporting, some journalists at the Kenyan coast have been physically assaulted after being perceived as being biased against Islam.
The MCK study found out that the mainstream media have propagated discussions of extremism, radicalisation and religious intolerance.
Through their social media platforms some media houses have allowed audiences to post bitter, uncivil, invective and hateful statements based on religious and ethnic affiliation.
In the same breath, the media has done commendable investigative journalism on war on terror. Programmes such as “Foul Winds” and “War of extremism” on NTV and K24 respectively did the media proud.
Through the intriguing story of the Kenyan media, the nation has told its different tales, recorded its successes and outlined its challenges.
The media have played the role of entertaining, informing and educating its audience. They have delved into the country’s development agenda and the attendant challenges; peered into the politics of the nation and celebrated our sports men and women.
One of the stories that the media in Kenya have narrated with mixed successes, has been that of politics and the country’s electoral processes.
With a heavy ‘guilt conscience’ hovering over its head, the media walked through the 2013 election campaign period on its tip toes.
Weeks of bloody violence that rocked the country after the disputed 2007 presidential elections dramatically re-defined the management and operations of the media.
The media stood accused of taking sides and fuelling animosity between various groups and communities.
A number of statutory bodies and civil society organisations started monitoring the media and social media to identify hate speech related to the 2013 campaigns. Among them were the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), MCK, Internews in Kenya, Ushahidi and Article 19. They engaged the media in different fora to help them re-examine their role in violence prevention and peace promotion.
Internews in Kenya, an international media organisation based in Kenya since 2003, began carrying out intensive conflict sensitive journalism and election training for reporters, correspondents and editors.
On November 16, 2012, it officially launched a new monitoring activity aimed at identifying and avoiding hate speech in the media. The unique, innovative “Citizen Watchdogs” activity directly involved communities in monitoring selected radio stations and identifying hate speech as well as supporting the role of media in mitigating conflict.
Media trainers then were aware of the fact that ethnicity and religion have been used globally by the media to fix individuals and their communities into boxes and corners.
Some of these boxes were a creation of historical injustices. Media discourses of the 1990s have projected ethnicity as the cause of brutal civil wars in Bosnia, Rwanda and Chechnya.
Indeed, it took many years before the world of academia focused on ethnicity, racism and religion as worthy discourses.
John Downing and Charles Husband in Representing Race, Racism, ethnicity and the Media argue that: “Unresolved issues of institutional racism and pervasive tenacity of racist discourses consistently attract the attention of some of the alert and responsible among academic researchers.”
The world had witnessed brutal racial/ethnic cleansing over the years;
- Adolf Hitler’s decimation of millions of Jews; he used the German media to propagate the holocaust.
- The enslavement and murder of millions of black people from Africa by the Caucasian race. Religion was used to justify the slave trade. The Bible was quoted and the media followed in tow. Professor Ali Mazrui in his book Africa, A Triple Heritage, asserts that over 20 million Africans; the strongest and healthiest of them, died en-route to the US alone.
- The Apartheid system in South Africa remains probably the most cruel and brutal ever created by man. The white community used it to enhance and tighten its grip on power and its domination over the black majority. Religion and the media were used to justify this horrific injustice. Apartheid tolerated severe discrimination. Even public transport had segregated sitting arrangement for; blacks, whites, coloured and Asians.
- The white colonialists in Kenya used the media to spread fear and propaganda that divided the various ethnic groups. Through a ranking system, some communities were made to believe and feel superior to the indigenous black Africans. This system of racial and ethnic segregation we perpetrated through private members clubs; clubs belonging to only certain races were established. Within the ruling clique a class system with ethnic leanings was established. Even some banks and cooperatives were used to promote the economic prosperity of this clique.
- The 1992 Los Angeles riots that followed the brutal assault of a black man Rodney King by white policemen lasted for four days. Massive destruction was reported.
- In 1981, 32 British cities recorded violent racial riots in the streets. In 2011 when similar riots hit London and other cities, the Western media attempted to sell the stereotype of rioters being black or from ethnic minorities.
- Ethnic violence and race anger have been recorded globally; from France to Spain, Mexico to England.
- The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa left scores dead and multiples injured.
- The ethnic violence in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area in 2014 was a pointer to deeply seated ethnic and religious distrust in the media
- In Africa, the worst was perhaps the 1994 Rwanda genocide that left close to a million people dead within 100 days.
In 2013 therefore, the media which Dr. Martin Luther King described as “The Voice of the Unheard”, was shuffling on its tip toes, uncertain of every move, almost too careful to be professional. After the March 4 2013 elections, and following the swearing in of Mr Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta as Kenya’s fourth president, the media was again on the spot. This time around it was accused of being too “soft, too careful” in its reporting of campaigns and elections to the point of turning a blind eye to election malpractices. However, many media personalities shrugged off these critical voices by arguing that at least the media could not be accused of shedding blood of innocent Kenyans.
According to a report on Reporting Ethnicity and Religion, good reporting in Kenya is marred by meagre earnings by journalists, overloading of reporters, and lack of time, lack of knowledge and lack of in-house training.
Kenyan journalism has in its own way attempted to promote human rights by reporting on violations; analysing, interpreting and reporting on acts of discrimination
The report acknowledges that: “Journalism has a strong and important role in tackling stereotypes and misinformation about ethnicity and religion by reporting in a professional manner and offering facts and informed opinion.
The work of journalists is influenced by many things, such as ownership of the media, economic and political conditions under which journalists operate, laws regulating the media operations, social and cultural milieu. The knowledge and understanding of events and issues by the media also matters.
Media growth and ownership
The media in Kenya has grown rapidly since the liberalisation of the airwaves in the 1990s.
Today, there exists more than 90 FM stations, more than 15 TV stations, and a huge array of print newspapers and magazines. Most Kenan publications use English as their primary language of communication. But radio stations employ both English and Kiswahili. Taifa Leo, the Kiswahili sister newspaper of the Daily Nation, has steadfastly remained the only major national Kiswahili newspaper. Major local languages are now becoming common in radio and TV and are growing in popularity.
KBC has retained a countrywide reach and broadcasts in English, Kiswahili and various local languages. The Royal Media services is the largest private national broadcaster with countrywide coverage. It also broadcasts in both English and Kiswahili and has radio stations running in various local languages. A dozen private radio and television stations have ranges that are limited to the Nairobi region.
The media in Kenya is regulated by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), a statutory. MCK is an independent national institution established by the Media Act of 2007 as the leading institution in the regulation of media and in the conduct and discipline of journalists.
MCK is mandated to amongst other things, register and accredit journalists, register media establishments, handle complaints from the public and create and publish yearly media audit on media freedom.
During accreditation, journalists agree to adhere to the Code of Conduct and Practice of Journalism in Kenya created by media practitioners and stakeholders in a bid to make Journalism in Kenya a more professional and respectable field.
The media is also regulated by the Kenya Film Classification Board, a State Corporation under the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts, which is mandated by the Films and Stage Plays Act to regulate the creation, possession, broadcasting, exhibition and distribution of films in Kenya.
The number of radio stations in Kenya have grown in leaps and bounds. Many exist purely as entertainment channels playing music and seeking advertisement. A good number are faith-based. There is also a legion of vernacular stations serving different regions of Kenya. Some are professionally run while majority still require a lot of professionalism injected in them.
Leading media companies own some of the most popular radio stations. The organisations include KBC, Nation Media Group, the Standard Group, Radio Africa, Royal Media Services and MediaMax Communication Group.
The KBC radio, Citizen FM, Kiss FM (pop), Milele FM (rumba) Classic FM (classics), Capital FM (rock and pop), Easy FM (R&B), Metro FM(Reggae), X FM(Rock), Homeboyz Radio(Hip hop and R&B) are among the most popular radio stations in Kenya in terms of listeners and coverage.
A number of established private radio stations broadcast in local languages, including Inooro FM, Kameme FM and Coro FM (Kikuyu), Metro East FM (Hindi), Chamgei FM, Kass FM and Rehema Radio (Kalenjin), Lake Victoria (Luo), Mulembe FM (Luhya), Mbaitu FM (Kamba), Star FM (Somali).
In terms of national coverage and viewership, KBC, NTV, KTN, Citizen TV and K24 are the biggest TV stations in Kenya. Entertainment TV recently entered the Kenyan airspace with the arrival of Kiss TV, a 24-hour music station and Classic TV, which airs African movies, programmes and music.
Hope TV of the Christ is the Answer Ministry (CITAM) also broadcasts its news and entertainment content to its faithful and Christian audience. Digital TV is also available in Kenya with the likes of SmartTV and DSTV.
More than 100 applications for radio and television licenses are pending before the Communication Authority (CA), the independent regulatory authority for the communications industry in Kenya. CA role licenses and regulates telecommunications, radio-communication and postal/courier services in Kenya. Kenya’s print media are diverse, ranging from well-respected newspapers and magazines to an expansive tabloid press.
Kenya’s leading independent national newspapers are the Daily Nation, The Standard, The Star, Business Daily and the weekly regional paper, The East African.
Since the late 1990s, the Kenyan media have demonstrated great editorial independence and the number of media freedom abuses has declined.
However, some media policies and incidents continue to inhibit media freedom e.g., the need to post a costly bond prior to publication and to register afterward.
All mainstream media houses have websites which they use to convey news and general information.
The rise of online magazines, blogs and websites for Kenyan news has increased tremendously.
Some of the top internet news companies in Kenya include Ghafla, a youth entertainment company, Daily Post, Kenya Moja, Kahawa Tungu, Buzz Kenya and Mpasho News.
Kenya has a number of monthly and bi-monthly magazines which cover a range of topics such as business, lifestyle, politics, entertainment, media and other societal issues.
The Media Council of Kenya (MCK)
The Media Council of Kenya (MCK), established in 2007, is an independent national institution in charge regulating the media and the conduct and discipline of journalists in Kenya.
MCK is mandated, amongst other things, to register and accredit journalists, register media establishments, handle complaints from the public, create and publish yearly media audit on the Media Freedom in Kenya.
MCK also reviews and periodically publishes the Code of Conduct and Practice of Journalism in Kenya, which journalists are obliged to adhere to. The Code of Conduct was created by media practitioners and stakeholders with the view of making Journalism in Kenya a more professional and respectable field.
Prior to the Media Act of 2007, the Media Council of Kenya was a self-regulatory body formed in 2004 by media stakeholders to regulate the media. However, after consultations between the Government and the media stakeholders, the MCK was converted from a self-regulatory to a statutory agency in 2007.
MCK draws its membership from media stakeholders in Kenya. They include the Media Owners Association, Kenya Union of Journalists, Kenya Correspondents Association, Kenya Editors Guild, Public Relations Society of Kenya, Kenya News Agency, private and public universities, the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication and the Law Society of Kenya.
Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ)
Many Kenyan journalists rely on the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) a trade union, to fight for their rights and privileges.
The union, which has undergone various transformations over the years, is affiliated to the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) and aims at improving working conditions of journalists, boosting media freedom and professionalism. KUJ’s membership includes print, online and broadcast correspondents, reporters, editors and photojournalists.
Clement Were, an employee of Baraza, a Kiswahili sister newspaper of the Standard, was a key founder of KUJ, which was formed on June 2, 1962 and registered on August 1 the same year.
During its formative days, KUJ drew its membership mainly from the ministry of Information and Broadcasting staff. However, KUJ only enjoyed the ministry’s membership for seven years. KUJ had its own ups and downs. It launched a new website in 2014 that has made it easier for online application of membership.
Whenever journalists hear of potential job cuts, they rush to seek membership of KUJ for protection or for a cushion in case of job losses. In 2015, journalists from the Standard Group are said to have joined the trade union in droves after it emerged that the company was planning a massive layoff of staff. The KUJ termed the move as “strategic”.
Despite the multiplication of media players, the employment space for journalists and editors seems to be sinking rapidly, especially in the print industry. The Standard Group, the Nation Media Group and even local magazine industry have been grappling with unsustainable wage bills.
In December 2014, Parliament passed the Security Act Law. The law had a string of anti-terrorism measures, some of which were perceived as having the potential to affect the media’s ability to collect and disseminate information.
On January 2, 2015, the High Court suspended controversial provisions in the law pending a full examination of the legislation.
Section 61 of the law amends the Prevention and Terrorism Act (PTA). It also expands restrictions to freedom of expression when it comes to the advocacy, promotion, advice and facilitation of terrorism. The offence is punishable by a term not exceeding 20 years. The new section criminalises anyone who publishes or utters a statement that is likely to be understood as encouraging or inducing another person to commit an act of terrorism. While Section 30 A (2) offers a glimpse on what might constitute a statement likely to be understood as directly and indirectly encouraging or inducing another person to commit or prepare to commit an act of terrorism, the law does not address the issue of journalists reporting on terrorism. The new section 30A (3) specifies that the law does not require a crime to have been attempted or committed.
Critics argue that the vaguely defined provisions risk being used to limit the speech of journalists reporting the discourse of terrorism. Of primary concern is the problem of defining what is to be prohibited.
Additional provisions relating to the interception of communication and other forms of telecommunications surveillance are of particular interest to journalists and media houses.
Section 56 of the Act, which amends the National Intelligence Service Act, gives broad powers to the Director General to authorise covert surveillance, without limiting the use of powers against journalists.
Indeed under the new section, the Director General can authorise covert operations where he has reasonable grounds to believe that such an operation is necessary to enable the Service to investigate or deal with any threat to national security or the performance of any of its functions.
Among other things, the written authorisation issued by the Director General may authorise any member of the service to: (I) obtain any information, material, record, document or thing for the purpose of the operation; (ii) monitor communication; (iii) install, maintain or remove anything; (iv) do anything considered necessary to preserve national security. Such measures must be specific and are valid for 180 days. In making the decision, the Director-General is only subject to guidelines approved in Council.
This section makes it possible for security forces to access the phone and data records of journalists and track down journalist sources without the journalist’s knowledge and without the necessary safeguard of judicial oversight. A direct consequence of this section, is that journalists are no longer able to guarantee confidentiality to sources.
In effect, the Security Law Act has expanded restrictions to freedom of expression to new areas and permitted state interference with the media in certain circumstances.
The restrictions also contravene Kenya’s international obligations. Of primary importance is article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that requires signing states to adopt a proportional approach to restriction on freedom of expression.
To comply with Article19 (3) states should satisfy a three-part test. First the restriction imposed must be provided by law which is clear and accessible to everyone.
Further, it must be proven as necessary and legitimate to protect the rights or reputation of others; national security or public order, public health or morals.
Finally, it must be proven as the least restrictive and proportionate means to achieve the purported aim and to conform to the strict test of necessity and proportionality.
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