Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Status change explanation: Kenya’s rating improved from Not Free to Partly Free owing to a decrease in the number of reported cases of extralegal intimidation against journalists and a gradual opening of the broadcast sector to private radio outlets.
Kenya’s constitution does not explicitly guarantee press freedom. It was hoped that the administration-backed proposed draft constitution, which contained specific protections for the media, would change this situation, but it was rejected in the November 2005 referendum. The Kenyan media continue to operate under Section 79 of the constitution, which guarantees citizens freedom of expression. Nevertheless, the government routinely restricts this right by broadly interpreting several laws, including the Official Secrets Act, the penal code, and criminal libel legislation. The Miscellaneous Amendment Act of 2002, which raised publishers’ mandatory insurance bond to 1 million Kenyan shillings (about US$13,100), has had a negative impact on numerous independent newspapers that cannot afford to pay the increased fees. A freedom of information bill is currently pending before the Parliament.
Reporters continue to face some harassment from the government, whose attitude toward press freedom oscillated throughout the year. On the one hand, the Kenyan press is more critical than ever before, and there has been a decrease in the number of reported cases of extralegal intimidation. However, journalists are still subject to some government intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and legal action, particularly when reporting on political scandals. In January, a journalist with the East African Standard, Kamau Ngotho, was charged with criminal defamation after publishing a report on the link between Kenya’s economic elite and the government. It was the first time a journalist had been charged with criminal defamation since the country gained independence in 1963. The government later dropped the charges after the attorney general granted Ngotho leave to challenge them in the high court on constitutional grounds and declared that the archaic law would no longer be used to suppress freedom of expression. In late September, Kenya Times journalist David Ochami was arrested and detained by police as a result of a column suggesting that a coup in Kenya was both desirable and possible. In May, the court case against David Makali, editor of the East African Standard, for the alleged theft of a police tape containing the confession of suspects in a murder case was dismissed by the judge for lack of evidence. Also in May, Kenya’s First Lady, Lucy Kibaki, showed up at the offices of The Nation accompanied by the Nairobi police chief and spent five hours insulting journalists and complaining about the “unfair” coverage of her family. Before leaving, Mrs. Kibaki slapped Clifford Derrick, a cameraman from the Kenya Television Network who had been filming the scene. He later filed assault charges against her, but the attorney general terminated the proceedings.
In the run-up to the country’s first constitutional referendum in November, local journalists were concerned about the occurrence of government and nongovernmental censorship. Both supporters and opponents of the draft constitution at separate times “banned” independent journalists from attending their rallies, believing they would “misrepresent facts.” In November, the Communications Commission of Kenya suspended the privately owned ethnic-language radio station KASS FM for seven days because the station was “inciting ethnic hatred and violence.” Several people had already been killed, and tensions were high in the run-up to the vote. However, some local journalists felt that the closure was politically motivated. While anecdotal evidence suggests that some ethnic radio stations did broadcast incendiary statements during the campaign period, only KASS FM was targeted, and no warning or official evidence accompanied the two-day suspension.
Although the number of private media outlets is rising, the government-controlled public broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, remains dominant outside the major urban centers, and its coverage still favors the ruling party. The private media are generally outspoken and critical of government policies. There has been a significant expansion of FM radio, particularly ethnic FM radio stations, increasing public participation as well as commentary unfavorable to the government through call-in shows. However, official pressure and bribery leads some journalists to practice self-censorship. Foreign media are widely available, including FM radio broadcasts of the BBC, Voice of America, and Radio France Internationale. Access to the internet is unrestricted; however, less than 5 percent of Kenyans are able to access the internet owing to the high costs involved.