Kenya | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Kenya

Kenya

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

61

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

21

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

19

Status change explanation: Kenya's rating declined from Partly Free to Not Free owing to a government crackdown on the tabloid presses at the start of the year and the administration's failure to liberalize the country's draconian media laws.

Kenya's constitution does not explicitly guarantee press freedom. Rather, the media operate under Section 79 of the document, which guarantees citizens freedom of expression. However, the government routinely ignores these protections and restricts the press by broadly interpreting several laws, including the Official Secrets Act, the penal code, and criminal libel laws. In recent years, senior politicians have brought defamation charges against a number of media outlets and publishers, winning potentially crippling monetary awards, while journalists have been sentenced to prison terms. Legislation passed in 2002 and signed into law in 2003 raised publishers' mandatory insurance bond to 1 million Kenyan shillings (about $13,100), required publishers to submit copies of their publications to a government registrar, and increased the penalties for noncompliance to include stiff fines as well as lengthy jail sentences for both publishers and vendors. A proposed bill to regulate the broadcast media was introduced in 2004 but was then withdrawn by the government following protests from media owners and local journalists. Promises to enact a more liberal media code have not been fulfilled, while draconian media laws dating from the Daniel arap Moi era remain a threat to press freedom.

Reporters continue to face some harassment at the hands of police and other officials. In January, police confiscated thousands of copies of nine publications they claimed were operating illegally, arresting more than 20 news vendors who sold them. They also took possession of printing plates and other equipment from the offices of The Independent newspaper in the capital and seized 15,000 copies of the publication. Local reporters told the Committee to Protect Journalists that the confiscations and arrests were related to recent exposures of alleged political corruption. The crackdown was carried out under the provisions of an archaic media law known as the Books and Newspapers Act, which the ruling coalition had pledged to eliminate during the 2002 election campaign. In September, a group of about 20 masked gunmen claiming to be police officers raided the offices of two newspapers in Nairobi, the Weekly Citizen and The Independent, and seized computers, diskettes, and other office equipment. Tom Alwaka, editor of the Weekly Citizen, was told at the central police station that the raid had been carried out by administration police. However, the police force and its criminal investigation department later denied that any of their officers were involved. In May, the government issued a directive to civil servants warning them not to release classified information to the press. Information Minister Raphael Tuju appointed an extralegal committee of "inquiry" into a radio station that broadcast commentaries critical of a government development project. Peter Makori, a freelance journalist detained in July 2003 on questionable charges, was jailed without trial until May 2004 and reportedly tortured by police.

The state has somewhat loosened its grip over the broadcast media, but the government-controlled Kenya Broadcasting Corporation remains dominant outside the major urban centers and its coverage favors the ruling party. There has been a significant expansion of FM radio, increasing public participation as well as commentary unfavorable to the government. Access to the Internet and to foreign media is unrestricted. Although official pressure and bribery led some journalists to practice self-censorship, the private print media are generally outspoken and critical of government policies.