Kenya | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2004

2004 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Status change explanation: Kenya's status improved from Not Free to Partly Free because the number of press freedom abuses has decreased and the media generally enjoy greater editorial freedom under a new government elected in December 2002.

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press; the media are very active, but the government sometimes restricts the rights of journalists under sections of the penal code, the Official Secrets Act, the Book and Newspapers Act, or colonial-era libel laws. Security forces often harass, beat, or detain members of the press, but the number of such incidents has decreased in recent years. Under the Media Bill approved by parliament in May 2002, publishers are required to purchase a costly bond before printing and publishing. The law also criminalizes the sale or distribution of print media products not deposited with a registrar within two weeks of publication. Violators face hefty fines or up to six months in prison. In addition, the constitution empowers the government to limit media coverage of debates on issues under consideration by the courts. In 2003, the government repeatedly invoked this particular provision to intimidate journalists who reported on the murder of Crispin Odhiambo Mbai, who headed a key committee of the Constitutional Review Conference. Some public officials threatened libel lawsuits against publications deemed too critical of their conduct or of government decisions. During the year, at least four journalists from leading publications were detained and interrogated because of their work. While print media enjoy greater freedom than in previous years, the state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation remains the only broadcaster with countrywide coverage. The range of the dozen private radio and television stations does not extend beyond the capital, Nairobi. Meanwhile, some 120 applications for radio and television licenses are pending before the government-controlled Communication Commission of Kenya--which has power to issue, withhold, and revoke broadcast licenses--and the backlog is growing as prospective broadcasters continue to apply. Tensions arose between the government and some newspaper publishers in December after the attorney general disclosed plans to outlaw "gutter" periodicals from the expansive tabloid press, which has been accused of politically motivated character assassination through unfounded and exaggerated stories. Independent journalists, who played a crucial role in the December 2002 election of Mwai Kibaki to the presidency, were reluctant to support the government's latest media policies.