Kenyan editors have challenged President Uhuru Kenyatta to commit to uphold media freedom in his State of the Nation address to Parliament on Wednesday.
The Kenya Editors’ Guild said the operationalisation of the Access to Information Act, which was passed in 2016, and the ongoing debate on the Computer and Cybercrime Bill offers the Head of State an opportunity to pitch for a free press in his address.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, the Guild's chairman Churchill Otieno said it is imperative that the government not only commits itself to press freedom in word but also in deed by ensuring that journalists are accorded the space, autonomy and protection to carry out their work.
“Only in this way would it ring loud and clear across this great country that media freedom is a key pillar of our democratic governance and that a country allows this freedom to thrive reaps the numerous gains that come with it,” Mr Otieno said.
The Access to Information Act was enacted two years ago, but throughout this period, it has not been operationalised and no government agency is complying with it.
The Computer and Cybercrime Bill was passed two weeks ago by the National Assembly amidst outcry by a section of the Kenyan society especially on the provisions of fake news, which the Guild says may be open to abuse.
Mr Otieno asked the government to ensure the guidelines of the Act are gazetted. He added that the Guild is currently reviewing the version of the Cybercrime Bill that was passed and will issue a comprehensive statement soon.
On Thursday, journalists across the world will mark World Press Freedom Day.
A recent report by Reporters’ Without Borders has ranked Kenya as number 96 on media freedom worldwide. Other East African States – Tanzania and Uganda – are ranked number 93 and 117 respectively.
“This ranking shows that Kenya and East Africa states have a lot of ground to cover in terms of meeting the global benchmarks for media freedom,” Mr Otieno said.
He added: “The rankings illustrate the fact that journalists in East Africa are facing serious threats in the course of their work, falling standards of constitutionalism and challenges to the rule of law.
The Guild said the security and safety of journalists in Kenya is under threat, warning that this has affected the quality of journalism and press freedom.