Global think-tank Freedom House ranked Kenya’s media as Partly Free in 2018, a drop from earlier rating as Free.
Never before has the media in Kenya experienced such bold and direct intimidation, harassment and threats of censorship than in the last year. The matter has shaken the gains of democracy and press freedom in Kenya.
Prior to the signing into law of the contentious Computer and Cybercrimes Bill that criminalises free speech, journalists and media houses were blatantly attacked by the public and the government for trying to balance their coverage during the charged 2017-2018 political period.
Some TV stations covering a parallel inauguration ceremony were shut down in total disobedience of the law and, an arrest warrant issued against some journalists.
Video footage of a stand-off between immigration officials and an opposition politician at JKIA, recorded in full glare of the world, showed the police attacking journalists in order to prevent them from carrying out their duties.
Human rights group Article 19 East Africa released a report that recorded 94 such incidents against individual journalists and media workers including bloggers.
In August 2018, two People Daily newspaper journalists and their managing editor were harassed and threatened with being barred from covering Parliament for reporting that some MPs were allegedly taking and soliciting bribes from organisations and individuals they were supposed to be investigating.
These attacks, perpetrated by State agencies, not only characterised a dip in media freedom in Kenya, but also encouraged such acts in the eyes of the public, who may ride on coverage that they regard negative to take matters into their own hands.
Many months later, journalism is still one of the most dangerous professions in the world.
The International Federation of Journalists reports that in 2018, 94 journalists and media workers died in targeted killings, bomb attacks and crossfire incidents.
Out of the 4,000 journalists in Kenya, half of them are correspondents, most of whom have no salary or formal employment, no insurance or medical cover, no safety gears, and are facing increased intimidation, harassment and physical attacks from hostile news sources, according to the Kenya Correspondents Association.
In Kenya, when journalists face harassment and threats, there is often little coverage about these incidents and/or concerted efforts by journalists themselves to not only raise awareness about the attacks, but to also advocate for freedom and independence of the media.
Editorial coverage will often swiftly move on to other trending news items and ignore or forget to address the very dangers that face journalists in their line of duty.
Talk of a battered wife who gets refuge only when good neighbours come to her rescue.
Journalists have surrendered this duty to media development and civil society organisations who frequently rush in to help and call for protection of journalists.
Journalists and media institutions need to come out and increase efforts to shun and speak out about threats and challenges that affect the media in Kenya.
There should be deliberate mechanisms in place to report and record incidents relating to the safety of journalists in every media house, and a strategy to highlight and seek help from other partners.
The profession comes with a huge responsibility, and should therefore be practised responsibly and in full adherence to the code of conduct for the practice of journalism in Kenya.
The State should desist from threatening journalists and enacting laws that undermine the practice of free and independent journalism.
Allow a more robust space for press freedom and an opportunity for the Fourth Estate to continue its role in highlighting corruption and promotion of accountability, integrity and good governance without fear or intimidation.
As Kenyans, we rely on the media to give us a truthful account of events in order to help us make decisions on how we are governed.
Indeed, media is the most trusted institution in Kenya. However, we remain complicit when we sit and spectate as the media is under attack.
Let us advocate the rule of law and respect the independence of the press. Are journalists aware of any safety protocols to follow when they face harassment or life-threatening situations, and could this be the reason why many incidents will go unreported and with little or no coverage?
For a long time in Kenya, media has been the cornerstone of democracy and a watchdog for good governance.
Recent attempts to diminish its role have dealt a detrimental blow to the full realisation of Article 33, 34 and 35 of the Kenyan Constitution.
Unlike in the past, the battle is no longer about self-censorship and control of advertising revenue by government, the biggest advertiser, but from a State that is bolder in stifling media operations through enactment of draconian laws and blatant intimidation.
Mr Mariita is a Communications Officer at Transparency International Kenya