Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November 2014, 09:28 GMT

Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Kenya

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Kenya, February 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5653ec.html [accessed 27 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In September, in an attempt to defuse escalating unrest in the run-up to year-end parliamentary and presidential elections, Kenya's parliament adopted constitutional reforms which allowed the political opposition equal access to the state-run media and also provided for the repeal of detention-without-trial laws. On November 7, the reforms were signed into law by President Daniel arap Moi, who was later re-elected to a fifth and final term in December elections that were marked by delays and confusion, forcing the Electoral Commission to extend the general election into a second day.

Although press freedoms have expanded somewhat since the advent of political pluralism in 1991 and the growth of privately owned independent weeklies and magazines, Moi's government still displays rigid intolerance of any criticism by the independent press. Officials employ such techniques as harassment and threats of legal action to muzzle the media, and in 1997 journalists were ejected from meetings and assaulted by politicians.

The government uses outdated colonial-era laws, such as those on seditious libel, to intimidate and silence the press. In July, a court rendered the largest libel judgment in Kenya's history against the independent weekly newspaper The People. Citing a recent ruling in Britain, the court ordered the paper to pay a 10-million shilling award (US $185,000) to an aide to the president. The ruling was ultimately overturned, but only after it had sent a collective shudder through the media.

Since most of the dailies and all of the weeklies are in English, the official language, the few Kenyan-language newspapers suffer great difficulties with financing and distribution. The English-language Nation Group newspapers, considered to be pro-opposition by the government, in March launched a state-of-the-art printing facility, with a production capacity of 60,000 papers an hour. The group has five daily and weekly titles, but despite its status as East Africa's leading newspaper chain, the Nation Group's 1991 application for radio and television licenses has continued to languish.

Broadcast licensing was to have been overseen by a Media Task Force, appointed two years ago to review media laws, but the government bypassed this procedure last year when authorities began to issue permits on a selective basis. The handful of private broadcasting licenses awarded since 1996 have gone to applicants linked to the ruling Kenya Africa National Union party (KANU), or to stations without news programming schedules. The Kenyan Television Network (KTN), which has had protracted court battles over its ownership, was finally bought by the East African Standard for an undisclosed amount a few days before the election. Thirty staff members were later dismissed in spite of the even-handed coverage the station showed toward the election.

Radio is the primary medium for more than 30 million Kenyans, most of whom live in rural areas, but the government continues to retain an effective monopoly for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation on nationwide radio and television.

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