Political Economy of the Media and the Question of Press Freedom in Kenya

Political Economy of the Media and the Question of Press Freedom in Kenya

The Kenyan media is one of the most free from government control in the African continent, despite there being several attempts to renege on that advancement. However, freedom from direct government control does not necessarily mean that the media is going to be entirely independent.

The Kenyan media landscape is still heavily influenced by interests of private media owners, players in the corporate world and not forgetting political elites.

Two related events happened in the past two weeks that clearly leaves a lot of questions regarding the perceived independence of the Kenyan media.

About two weeks ago, KTN News; a 24 hours television news channel in Kenya aired promos of an investigative piece by Africa Uncensored dubbed “The Profiteer.” The documentary produced by John-Allan Namu who at one time headed the investigative journalism desk at KTN News sought to expose political and military leaders who were profiting from the war in Africa’s youngest nation – South Sudan.

This war that started after a rift between South Sudan President Salva Kiir  and his Deputy Riek Machar has cost more than 400, 000 people their lives with another 2.5 million displaced as refugees to Kenya and Uganda according to a recent report by Health in Human Crises Center.

The documentary exposed current and former leaders in South Sudan’s government who are profiting from the state of chaos that has caused so much suffering to it’s citizens. Most of these leaders live lavish lifestyles with their families in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia among other East African countries.

Among those indicted in the documentary was former South Sudan Chief of Staff Gen. Paul Malong Anweng’ Anei. In the documentary, Namu makes two attempts to contact him at his Nairobi home but on both occasions he is blocked. In the last instance he is forced to pass his questions under the gate to his compound even after leaving his contacts with his security.

On the day the documentary was to air on KTN News, Namu said on Twitter that the media house called to inform him that they won’t be airing it due to concerns over parts of the documentary that they wanted expunged.

The biggest question though is, why was this documentary cancelled at the last minute?

The producers eventually decided to upload it on YouTube for all to see and decide for themselves. Clearly there was attempts made to get response to individuals and banks adversely mentioned to be profiting from the war in South Sudan.

The last minute about-turn by KTN News from airing the documentary could only be explained as another success by either the political elite who are ensuring that Gen. Malong enjoys a lavish lifestyle in Kenya while millions are torn apart by war or by the commercial banks adversely mentioned in the documentary to be aiding in the pillage of South Sudan’s resources. These banks are among Kenya’s biggest media spenders.

Interestingly, just one week after the documentary was published online, a local journalist aired an exclusive interview with Gen. Malong from his Nairobi home. The interview was aired during the prime time news on Citizen TV; Kenya’s biggest television network by audience.

In the interview the journalist who has on several occasions been accused of using his popular weekly shows to sanitize people accused of corruption and other ills did little to make Gen. Malong react to the issues raised in the documentary but rather seemed to have been poking unnecessary holes in the Africa Uncensored documentary. That this interview was allowed by editors at Citizen Television to run without meeting the basic thresholds of journalism casts important doubts on how independent Kenyan media is from external influence.

 

Daniel Okoth
Daniel Okoth
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