The media in Kenya is a diverse and vibrant growing industry. There are more than 90FM radio stations, 14 television stations and a massive number of formal and informal print newspapers and magazines. For a long time the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) dominated Kenya's electronic media scene as the only nationwide broadcaster, but with time, privately owned media houses have taken charge to the point of mockingly reporting the recent strike of KBC staff. Relations between the mass media and the Kenyan government have always been tense. However with challenging issues of media ownership, media responsibility and governmental legal mandates, the control of media outlets is now extremely controversial with regards to a declared democratic country like Kenya.
This paper seeks to analyse the role of Kenyan free press in promoting democracy and the initial challenges to an unrestrained freedom of the press on account of perceptions of irresponsibility in the exercise of free speech and the role of the media in development in Kenya.
Section 79 of the Constitution of Kenya declares that every Kenyan has the freedom to hold opinions without interference, to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information and freedom from interference with his correspondence. According to Mwangi, 2007, freedom of the press is the right to seek, receive and to impart information. The freedom of expression in Kenya however is expressly limited in cases where any law in question makes reasonable provision in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or to protect the rights and privacy of other persons, and to avoid the disclosure of confidential information.
Mwangi, 2007 continues to say that while freedom of the press as a component of free speech has limits, the extent of those limits has varied over the past years, and can only be properly defined in relation to the goals of free speech and specific instances of abuse. A code of conduct for reporters exists in Kenya, most journalists do not really follow it and others are ignorant and not aware of its contents.
The code which was developed by the Kenya Union of Journalists entails some of the guidelines to be followed by journalists. Not many journalists however mind the ethics, so long as it is a ‘good ‘story, they cover it. Currently you find journalists and editors asking for money to “kill stories” or give more coverage to particular individuals or institutions. Other codes of conducts that are being violated by journalists in Kenya include privacy boundaries. According to Chapter 4, Article 33 of the constitution, individuals are guaranteed to right of freedom of expression however he citizen’s freedom of expression shall be limited by Article 31 that states that “every person has a right to privacy.” That means individuals have the right not to reveal information relating to them, family or private affairs.
The implication is that individuals including journalists can say whatever they want so long as such material does not violate the privacy and reputation of others or infringe on the privacy of their communication. Most journalists at times invade the privacy of certain individual.
In Kenya the bodies that are involved in the monitoring and protection in media are: Media Council of Kenya which is an independent national institution established by the Media Act 2007 as the leading institution in the regulation of the media and in the conduct and discipline of journalists, ( http://www.mediacouncil.or.ke/) . Other bodies include The Kenya Union of journalists.
Current Examples of Journalistic Misconduct
A current example is the ongoing investigations of Louis Otieno a media personality in connection with the mysterious death of a female friend. No one really knows what happened but with regard to the victim, the victim’s family and the...