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Constitution liberated media but many other ills stand in the way

By Victor Bwire
Friday, August 28th, 2020
Media personnel at work. Photo/Courtesy
In summary

The consistent, trusted and professional work the media has played in Constitution making process in Kenya is well documented.

Journalists have played a very significant role in the promotion and protection of the Constitution including the 2010 Constitution of Kenya.

Once it became apparent that the country was ready for a new constitution, after many failed attempts, the media picked and made it a national issue, provided space for debate and provided comprehensive coverage to the process that eventually the country got a new dispensation.

Indeed, in addition to getting a new constitution then, the media in terms of freedom of expression, media freedoms and right to access information were major beneficiaries.

For the first time, we have, through articles 33, 34 and 35, constitutional protection to media freedoms in various forms. 

Media have been resolute in defending the Constitution because media freedom and diversity are among the key standards necessary in assessing a country’s commitment to human rights and good governance.

In order to promote pluralism and diversity it was imperative that media are permitted to operate independently.

The Kenyan media landscape has undergone significant changes since enacting legislation that operationalised articles 34 and 35 of the Constitution through the establishment of the Media Council of Kenya and passing of the Access to Information legislation.

This followed other key events in the history of the industry including the liberalisation of the airwaves in 1992 and the digital migration in 2016.

This has seen an exponential growth in the sector, which has currently seen the country register 100 print publications, 92 TV stations and nearly 200 radio stations.

This makes Kenya to have one of the best working environments for media in the region as envisaged under the Windhoek Declaration. 

But in spite of this liberation many ills still stand in the way of media independence.

A number of laws still exist that frustrate the media including the penal code sections 40 (1); 66; 66A; 67; 96; 194-200; the Books and Newspapers Act among others.

There were attempts under the Security Amendment Acts 2014, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill to introduce weird provisions to limit media freedoms.

A number of media houses and individual journalists have borne the brunt of corporates and individuals, who withdrew advertisements because of the editorial content or harass journalists.

Several cases by corporates and related huge fines have been used to curtail independent media.

This has compromised independence and forced some journalists out their jobs. In addition, because of media ownership related issues, a number of independent minded journalists have been sacrificed in the country.

It is well documented that media owners have been impediments to independence.

In addition to this interference, lack of work ethics, professionalism or integrity by some journalists has stood in the way of independence.

The issue of poor pay, mass sackings, and working conditions has also undermined independence of the media.

The huge cost to start up a media institution coupled with other government loans and levies has made the business very expensive.

Profound knowledge about sustainable business models for media is not only highly relevant for all media managers worldwide, but also for international donors and implementers involved in media development.

When media enterprises are self-sustaining – financially liberated from corruptive practices, government influence, or dependence on foreign non-governmental organisations – they will be more likely to assert and maintain their editorial freedom and independence. — The Writer is deputy CEO Media Council of Kenya

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