The government’s shutdown of four private television stations early this year affected the independence of the media in Kenya, a report revealed on Thursday during celebrations to mark World Press Freedom Day.
A survey conducted by Ipsos in 45 counties found that 54 per cent of those interviewed faulted the government for the shutdown, saying it was unconstitutional while 36 per cent supported the move.
While most of those interviewed felt that the shutdown contributed to making the Kenyan media less independent, the level of government interference between January 2017 and March 2018 has declined.
Because of the government’s influence in January 2017, the level of media independence stood at 34 per cent. By March this year it had risen to 44 per cent.
Statistics show that the number of people who felt the government’s influence on the media reduced their independence in the said period had gone down while that those who believe the media are not independent, and those who were not sure, rose.
The report also showed that the public’s confidence in the media has gone down since 2015.
“Kenya ranks poorly in terms of press freedom. Media independence is a very contested space, the editors will work to ensure it is adhered to,” Mr Churchill Otieno, the new chairman of the Editors Guild, and Nation Media Group's online and new content editor, said.
After NTV, KTN and Citizen TV were shutdown in January this year, radio was the main source of news.
According to the Media Council of Kenya, the shutdown was a learning experience, hence the need for a working relationship between the media and the government.
During the celebrations, it was noted that women remain marginalised in media houses.
Compared with the media in other parts of the world, Kenya’s media environment is said to be becoming increasingly hostile since the police and State officials can harass or intimidate reporters with impunity.
A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed that political tensions have eased since the presidential elections, but “the ability of journalists to report and comment freely continues to be undermined by State officials”.
In an assessment coinciding with World Press Freedom Day, HRW researcher Otsieno Namwaya recounted a series of physical and verbal attacks on journalists in the past year.
Mr Namwaya cited a March 26 attack by anti-riot police on Citizen TV’s Stephen Letoo and NTV cameraman Robert Gichira, as they covered a scuffle at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport involving opposition lawyer Miguna Miguna.
And last November, an audio tape emerged of a government official threatening KTN reporter Mark Nabiswa for covering a Raila Odinga rally live.
And in in January, another State official was heard on an audio tape threatening to have Nation journalist Justus Wanga fired.
Later that month, the government shutdown three television stations that defied a state directive forbidding live coverage of ODM leader Raila Odinga’s mock swearing-in ceremony at Uhuru Park.
“Kenyan authorities should ensure full respect for international law by allowing open reporting and commentary on any issues of pressing public interest,” HRW said.
HRW added: “Unless they do, Kenyan media and journalists have more to worry about than to celebrate during this year’s World Press Freedom Day.”
At the same time journalists based in Kisii called on the government to complete investigations into the death of their colleague Peter Kainda Nyaruri of Citizen Weekly, who was killed by unknown people in 2009.
The journalists, who walked for more than 10 kilometres before going to the Kisii University grounds where they planted more than 200 trees, said Mr Nyaruri was not a criminal.
Migori County Assembly Speaker Boaz Okoth asked the government to respect freedom of the media since the gains achieved cannot be eroded by personal interests.
And journalists in Eldoret marked the day by planting trees on a 9.2 acre farm in Kiplombe in collaboration with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).
In London, about 100 journalists held vigil outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House to highlight the ongoing attacks on their colleagues, after a week in which 10 reporters were killed in Afghanistan.
BBC reporters held a minute’s silence to mark World Press Freedom Day carrying photographs of Ahmad Shah, their 29-year-old colleague who was killed.
Shah, who was riding a bicycle, was reportedly shot dead in the eastern Khost Province.
Nine other journalists, including AFP photographer Shah Marai, were also killed on Monday in a suicide attack in Kabul.
Afghanistan’s slain journalists were also remembered following one of the deadliest attacks on the country’s media since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
“Afghanistan’s journalists are among the bravest in the world,” Omar Waraich, Amnesty International’s deputy director for South Asia, said.
A double suicide blast in Kabul left 25 people dead.
Media workers from Tolo News, ITV, Radio Free Europe and Mashal TV were also among the dead.
The assaults have shaken Afghanistan’s tight-knit journalist community.
Many of them are close friends as well as colleagues who look out for one another in an increasingly hostile environment.
But many remain defiant and determined to continue with their work despite the risks.
Afghanistan was last year ranked the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The media watchdog said since 2016, 34 journalists had been killed in that country.
On the same day the Afghan journalists were killed, Filipino radio broadcaster Edmund Sestoso was shot by assailants in the southern city of Dumaguete.
RSF figures show that 50 professional journalists were killed worldwide in 2017, the lowest number in 14 years.
Kenya is ranked 96th out of 180 in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index prepared by the Paris-based RSF.
Stories by Kevin J Kelly, Ruth Mbula, Elisha Otieno, Dennis Lubanga, Maureen Kakah, AFP and BBC.