Press freedom violations owing to crimes against media persons have increased in Kenya according to Article 19 Eastern Africa.
In their report released Sunday found an increase in incidents of press freedom violations in Kenya between May 2019 and April 2020 documented cases of attacks, harassment & intimidation rising to 59 from 53 in 2019 similar period.
“January and April 2020 witnessed a sharp increase in attacks on journalists recording 36 cases, at the height of COVID-19 pandemic across the country,” reads part of the report.
“Of the 36 cases recorded, 22 violations happened between March & April, less than two months following the announcement of the first case of COVID 19 on March 12. This constitutes 37 percent of the total violations during the monitoring period.”
During the period, Nairobi recorded the highest violations with 13 incidents, Mombasa followed with 6 and Turkana witnessing 4 cases. The Other 19 counties recorded less than two cases.
According to the report, the main violators are security agents, government officials, and organised mobs – including primary school pupils. “This clearly demonstrates a sustained effort to stifle and control the press, limiting the free flow of information in 22 Counties.”
“A free press cannot thrive in an environment in which journalists are constantly under severe and constant attack: this undermines freedom of expression, and democracy,” Regional Director Mugambi Kiai said Sunday as the world celebrates press freedom.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day is themed ‘Journalism without fear or favor’.
“An independent media is crucial for Kenya’s ability to achieve her development agenda including the efforts to contain the raging pandemic and its watchdog role of ensuring that those in power are being held to account,” Kiai said.
Mr Churchill Otieno, President of the Kenya Editors Guild in a commentary in the Daily Nation to mark the day, calls for safeguarding of the democratic space.
Churchill argues that Kenya’s mainstream media has shrunk by an estimated 75 percent in five years with fewer experienced journalists available to do the public duty.
“Journalism as a public service has a structure where advertiser pays for citizen to get trusted reporting and analysis but the revenue has migrated hence cannot support strong journalism,” he said.
“Economic and digital disruption is decreasing the media space and unless innovate and push back, we will be squeezed out of our space. Let us take charge of the innovation agenda,” he added.
“Kenya’s democracy is in jeopardy unless urgent policy and legislative measures are taken. No democracy survives without accountability journalism. The question is, how can Kenya protect its journalism so that it can serve the citizens without fear or favour?
In its latest 2020 report on press freedom, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shows a ‘steady decline in media freedom’ ranking 103 out of 180 in press freedom attributed to ‘a slow erosion of media freedom in recent years’.