Defamation Laws Curtailing Media Freedom – Gitobu Imanyara

Kenya’s defamation laws are being used to silence critics, former Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara has said.

Imanyara made the remark during the launch on Wednesday, of a report indicating that Kenya has fallen short of its promises for press freedom.

He asked the media not to relent in the fight for freedom saying security can only be maintained through an informed society.

The report, dubbed ‘Broken Promises: How Kenya is failing to uphold its commitment to a free press’, was written by Committee to Protect Journalists Africa programme coordinator Sue Valentine and East Africa representative Tom Rhodes.

It says the Jubilee administration is actively introducing bills that threaten to counteract press freedom guarantees.

In a statement on Wednesday, the CPJ noted that reporting on terrorism is hampered by laws restricting coverage of classified information.

“The restrictions come at a time when public discourse and transparency are essential in light of hefty government spending on insfrastructure and development, and high-profile terrorist attacks,” it said.

“The legislation appears to be a response to negative foreign and local coverage of Kenya’s security operations in the wake of recent deadly attacks by militants.”

It further highlighted Deputy President William Ruto’s case at the International Criminal Court and US President Barack Obama’s visit next week for the 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

The CPJ report notes that the working environment for members of the press has worsened yet press freedom is guaranteed by the constitution.

The organisation found that journalists censor themselves as reporting corruption and land grabbing cases comes with the risks of harassment and violence.

Attacks on Kenyan journalists happen with almost complete impunity, it said.

“A combination of legal and physical harassment, and concentration on media ownership, makes it increasingly difficult for journalists to work freely in Kenya,” the report reads.

The report further found that the resulting rise of online platforms has grown the government’s desire to control them.

The CPJ urged Uhuru to foster a culture of media freedom in recognition of the value of free discourse and flow of information, urging focus on correspondents.

“He should publicly reaffirm his government’s commitment to the role of an independent and robust press as a cornerstone of Kenya’s democracy and a vital part of its socio-economic and political development,” it said.

“Repeal sections of the penal code so that defamation is no longer a criminal offence, in accordance with the 2010 call by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and international best practice.”

The CPJ said it has reached out to the US Embassy in Kenya regarding advocating for press freedom during the July 24 to 26 summit that Uhuru will co-host with US President Barack Obama.