The growth of the Kenyan media over the years has been at a snail’s pace but worth the wait as we now enjoy accurate, quality, reliable and timely news unlike in the past where cases of libel, defamation and slander were the order of the day. Many media houses have emerged in the last decade in Kenya offering a variety of news content. The stiff competition in the market has helped end the monopoly by government sponsored TV and radio stations and as a result, focus has been shifted to quality news coverage other than making exorbitant profits at the expense of the public. The standards of reporting have also grown as media houses now seek highly qualified journalists. Journalism has become a profession and not a hobby.
We have seen diversity with the emergence of vernacular radio and TV stations. We now have almost every community catered for in terms of news dissemination. This is a huge gain as the communication barrier has been broken. In the past, the press found it a daunting task to convey information in different tribes as such a notion only remained a mirage. It was unthought-of that Kenya could embrace such kind of diversity. Such gains have not only helped promote education, awareness and entertainment but also preserve Kenyan diverse cultures and peaceful co-existence.
Patrick Henry once said that “give me liberty or give me death” and this has been the case in Kenya and other countries globally. The legislature has played a crucial role in the growth of freedom of the press. Our new constitution passed in 2010 acknowledged the importance of a free press and set up mechanisms to safe guard its existence without government interference. In the past, especially in the 1990s, Kenyan media experienced turbulent times with constant government censorship and stiff penalties to gag its operations. Journalists who did not play to the tune of the ruling class were tortured, detained or made to disappear under strange circumstances.
The ruling class felt insecure with the media as it exposed poor governance and human atrocities committed by the government such as extra judicial killings. Eventually, all these intimidation of journalist and reporters led to what we now call yellow journalism. The press had to give in to external pressure and was willing to be compromised by the ruling elite for positive coverage. The change in regime that occurred in 2003 however was the turning point for Kenyan Media. The desire for change was enormous and led to the adoption of the new constitution that safe guarded the freedom of the press. This created a level playing field and so the entrance of many stakeholders in the media industry to pursue the unchartered waters.
Advancement in technology has also played a significant role in the growth of the media in Kenya. We now enjoy state of the art technology that has enabled news coverage much easier and faster unlike in the olden days. The introductions of digital cameras that capture quality images and their accessibility to many have transformed the industry in many ways. The internet has revolutionised the way news is being conveyed as information is now able to reach a huge population of people with just the click of a button. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram have taken centre stage and media houses have had to readjust themselves to cope with these new rapid changes in technology else become obsolete.
Despite these tremendous gains in the growth of the Kenyan Media, traces of archaic behaviour still come into play in one way or another that threaten to erode the gains made that took so much time, effort and sacrifice to achieve. Media censorship is still rampant like what was witnessed in the 2017 general election. Various media houses were denied air coverage for days by the Communications Authority of Kenya for failing to heed the government’s call of not airing the mock swearing in of the opposition leader into office as “the people’s president” as it was claimed then. This act did not go down well for Kenya in the international community and portrayed a bad image for the country. The stand-off was eventually resolved in the corridors of justice and the government finally gave into external pressure. Other cases that threaten freedom of the press are the attacks on journalists while in the cause of duty. Many journalists are still being attacked and brutally beaten for no concrete reason. However, in spite of these challenges, the gains made still outweigh the negatives and Kenya is on the right track in the growth of the media; a pivotal step in achieving democracy.