Upcoming: Panel on challenges to independent media in East Africa

For readers in the Washington area, Tuesday morning from 10:00 – 11:30am, the Center for International Media Assistance, the National Endowment for Democracy Africa Program and the Solidarity Center will be hosting a roundtable discussion entitled “Independent Media in East Africa: Democratic Pillar in Peril?”  Looks like an interesting event with a distinguished panel:

New challenges to independent media are emerging in East Africa. Recently passed anti-terrorism and information laws allow governments to harass and imprison journalists with impunity. Under these new laws, six journalists have been arrested in Ethiopia since June 2011, and Somali journalists are facing tremendous threats covering conflict and famine in their country. How do local media react when their fellow journalists come under attack? How can an independent press play its crucial role as a pillar of democracy and overcome challenges in places such as Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya? The discussion will also examine the development of unions and media associations as well as the international donor community’s role in supporting independent media in East Africa.

Information and registration here.

News in the News

One more player is coming to the East African media marketplace.

Al Jazeera to open Swahili service (Daily Maverick):

This is big news for the East African media market, which is already the most vigorous in Africa, and is a huge step for the Qatar-based news outlet. Al Jazeera’s rise to prominence has been meteoric. . . .

Its move into the Swahili market is part of a strategy of global expansion, which includes plans for a Turkish Al Jazeera and a Spanish Al Jazeera. Its presence is likely to raise the standards of journalism in the region, as they’ll be able to pay proper money for content. Swahili is one of Africa’s most popular languages. It is estimated that more than 100 million people speak Swahili (even though only 5 million use it as their first language).

Anyone interested in the state of the media in Kenya needs to read a report from AFRICOG: “AFRICOG Investigative Journalism Fellowship Report on Media Corruption”. A lot of what I see in the Western and International media about the media in Kenya and East Africa in general reminds me of a lot of what was reported about Kenya’s “free public education” system until scandals surfaced. Simply superficial. Yes, on the surface, the media in Kenya is relatively free and relatively robust–but you don’t understand how life becomes “news” in Kenya without appreciating corruption and other influences beneath the surface.

A Closer Look at Journalism and NGOs

Karen Rothmyer has a “terrific and necessary” piece in the Columbia Journalism Review headlined “Hiding the Real Africa; why NGOs prefer bad news” about stereotyped images of Africans in poverty in the U.S. media and the influence of NGOs working on aid projects on this coverage (with comments from Jina Moore and I so far).  Linked is the full research paper for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center.

Also at CJR is a review of Rebecca Hamilton’s Fighting for DarfurPublic Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide.

In The Star Andrea Bohnstedt explains that “Kibera Slum is Now the face of Kenya Abroad.”

In “Good News is No News, and that’s Bad News”, Terrance Wood writes at the Development Policy Blog that the media cover aid failures and problems, rather than success stories, and that this gives a misleadingly negative impression about the effectiveness of aid.

“Social media and the Uganda election 2011”

The Star launches on the web

Just in time for the election in Uganda, the Star in Nairobi has launched its website. The Star began as a competing daily to the Nation and Standard and to the other tabloids during my time in Nairobi. It quickly became a necessary political news read. Its launch on the web is a big step forward for Nairobi and Kenya as a regional media and communications hub, and a step forward toward a future of more accountability and better governance through greater openness. And a better media through competition.

The more outlets, the harder it will be for the Government of Kenya to suppress the news.

Upcoming–the new attempt to revive draconian regulation of the Kenyan media before the 2012 campaign.

Here are three columns that deserve your attention in understanding the current state of play in Kenya:

Jerry Okungu–“Kibaki Has Soiled Nominee’s Names”

Wycliffe Muga–“Kibaki’s Delimna Over His Legacy”

Mugambi Kiai–“Deconstructing ‘servant leadership'”

Covering Nairobi’s Police Executions, Media Freedom and Internet Access

Expressions Today, “East Africa’s Independent Media Review”, in its weekly “The Bulletin” feature,  takes a look at last week’s coverage of public extra-judicial executions by the police on Langata Road in Nairobi:

And finally, the unnamed citizen who pictured Flying Squad officers executing suspected thugs who had surrendered in full view of members of the public has done citizen journalism proud. When Nation got hold of the shocking pictures, the paper ran them on the Front Page and did a strong-worded editorial about the utter evil of extra-judicial killings.

It was a story that shook the country. At least Internal Security Minister George Saitoti said the concerned officers had been interdicted and will be prosecuted. But at the press conference, why didn’t reporters press Saitoti about the names? Doesn’t the public have the right to know their names, now that they have been placed under investigation (by the same Police Service, by the way)?

(Okay. Many Kenyans, terribly frustrated by violent crime, think suspects should be executed on sight. No. That is not the rule of law. Instead, the Kenya Police Service should have thoroughly professional officers who are well equipped and motivated and who can win public trust and collaboration to curb crime.)

Without those pictures, we would most likely never have known the truth about what had happened on Lang’ata Road. Except for Nation, all other media houses basically reported what the police said about the incident. And it was plain lies.

Here’s what The Star carried: “The three were part of a gang of six and they were killed in a fierce shoot-out with police, according to Lang’ata police chief Augustine Kimantiria. There was no fierce shoot-out.

Thumbs up to citizen journalism!

“Cry Me an Onion” looks at the state of press freedom and the Kenyan newspapers –not as free as some say he concludes.

Concerning three year prison term for Somaliland journalist on charges of libeling the Somaliland Chief of Police and head of Somaliland Electric Agency:

“This sentence has all the hallmarks of summary and punitive justice,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The court should have first established whether or not anyone was defamed and, if they were, a more measured and just penalty should have been imposed. Imprisonment is clearly disproportionate for defamation. We urge the courts to reverse this decision on appeal.”

The East African reports on a new study on internet access in the region:

According to a study conducted by TNS Research International in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu from September to November 2010, out of a population of 40 million, about four million (10 per cent) have access to the Internet.

The study, titled “Digital Life” and conducted to establish people’s online behaviour and activities, found that in Uganda, out of a population of 33 million, about 3.3 million (10 percent) have a access to the Internet while Tanzania comes last — out of a population of 42 million, only 672,000 people (1.6 per cent) have had an online experience.

The study found that based on an adult sample in each of the covered EAC towns, an average of 45 per cent of the urban population have used the Internet, with Kampala having the highest number at 53 per cent; Arusha and Nairobi at 49 per cent; Mombasa at 42 per cent while Dar es Salaam has the least number of people using the Internet at 31 per cent.

The TNS study revealed that in Kenya, mobile devices and Internet cafes are the primary points of access.

The results of the study show that 60 per cent of Kenyans online use mobile phones as compared with those who use PCs at home (29 per cent); PCs at work (33 per cent); and cyber cafes (41 per cent), thereby indicating high potential for growth in the mobile Internet business in Kenya.

The Government of Kenya has announced, according to Business Daily, a revised lending program to support “digital centres” to increase internet access (referencing higher starting figures than what the TNS study found):

The government has released Sh320 million for set up of digital centres in Kenya, a move aimed at creating new business opportunities and boost Internet access in rural areas.

Investors seeking loans will be required to submit a business plan and have until February 25 to apply for the funds.

The money will be disbursed through Family Bank. An investor can borrow from Sh820,000 to Sh3.3 million repayable with an annual interest rate of 11.5 per cent in three years.

Funding glitch

Information permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo told investors to apply for the loans through Family Bank.

“Some people have been seeking favours from the MPs with regard to the loans, but this is not going to work since the procedure is that one must go through the bank.”

This comes weeks after a funding glitch hit the model digital centres, threatening five pilot centres started three years ago in Malindi, Meru, Kangundo, Garissa and Mukuru slums in Nairobi.

Nairobi and Mombasa account for 90 per cent of the 6.4 million people who have Internet access, according to data from the Communications Commission of Kenya and the creation of the digital villages —Pasha centres — is meant to expand the Net’s reach.

The centres, most of which will be in the rural areas, will be used for Government e-services, Internet access, computer training, vocational lessons, ICT retail, entertainment and gaming, typing and data entry, printing services, copying and scanning.

Don’t forget about the Standard raid . . .

To me, the government-sponsored raid on the Standard newspaper in the spring of 2006 was a signal event in current Kenyan politics.  Clearly anti-democratic and without excuse.  Condemned strongly by the U.S. Ambassador at the time, Mark Bellamy and the other Western envoys in Nairobi.  And yet almost boasted of by figures in government, with impunity.

This was part of the background I found upon arriving in Nairobi just over a year later.  It was an elephant in the room when the Kibaki administration proposed a draconian law to restrict press freedom in mid-2007 in the lead up to the elections in December, and it was lurking when the government restricted coverage of the announcement of the presidential election outcome by the ECK on December 30 and then banned lived broadcasting thereafter.

Wednesday, the Kenyan parliament adopted a report calling for action on the matter, in particular finding that two key insiders, now-Enviroment Minister John Michuki, and Stanley Murage, a key figure in the Kibaki inner circle and senior presidential aide at the time, should be prosecuted.

By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU, ashiundu@ke.nationmedia.com

Parliament has adopted the report on the Artur brothers without amendments and placed the onus for its implementation on the Executive.

Apart from the lone ‘No’ from Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo, the only Cabinet minister who was in the House when the report was put to a verbal vote, all other MPs including assistant ministers excitedly voted for the report’s adoption.

Mr Gitobu Imanyara (Imenti Central, CCU), who re-introduced the report in the House, moved debate and rallied MPs to adopt it criticised the Justice Minister saying “he obviously lived in another era” and not that of the new Constitution.

Mr Kilonzo had called for Parliament to stay the adoption of the report saying it “raises more questions than answers” and that it was a “comedy of errors”.

The report adversely mentions Mr John Michuki (former Internal Security minister and current Environment minister) for his role in shielding the Armenian brothers and even giving them a lead role in the raid of the Standard Group offices, printing press and KTN studios.

The Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura, former special advisor to the President Mr Stanley Murage, former CID director Joseph Kamau, Ms Mary Wambui and her daughter Winnie Wangui, together with Mr Raju Sanghani and Kamlesh Pattni are all indicted as per the evidence adduced before the parliamentary inquest.

The report is explicit that Mr Michuki and Mr Murage “should not hold public office” and that they should be prosecuted for their role in the Standard Group raid and for condoning illegal activities of the Armenians.

The implementation of the report will be monitored by Parliament’s Implementation Committee, which as per its operation mode means the report has to be implemented within 60 days, failure to which sanctions are placed on the Executive, unless an extension is sought.

Ugandan Reporter for Radio Simba remains missing a week after being “whisked away”

 

Journalist abduction (International Freedom of Expression Clearing House on allafrica.com) (See also Jina Moore blog)

IMG_5610_r1A Radio Simba journalist, Arafat Nzito, has been missing since 3 November 2010 and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Nzito, 23 years old, was picked up by plain-clothed men in a Toyota vehicle at around 2:00 p.m. from the Radio Simba offices.

He is a resident of Kitintale, Nakawa division, in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city.

Radio Simba’s chief news editor, Emmanuel Okello, told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that Nzito’s disappearance followed him receiving numerous phone calls about meeting some people in the station’s parking lot, about 30 meters away.

Nzito left his work half done and went to meet these people but he never returned to complete filing his news story. He did not return the following day either.

According to an eye witness who declined to be identified, Nzito was whisked away by four men in a vehicle with tinted windows at around 2:30 p.m. He first talked to them before he sat in the back seat in between two men. The witness did not notice the car registration number.

CPJ: “Somaliland elections and coverage surprisingly . . . normal”

The blog of the Committee to Protect Journalists gives an assessment of the state of media coverage of the Somaliland elections.

I thought this was particularly interesting:

In comparison to greater Somalia, however, where insurgents banned viewing the World Cup and a near-powerless government continues to arrest journalists for negative coverage, Somaliland’s media scene appears robust. Journalists were allowed to move freely throughout the polling stations without hindrance, Associated Press reporter Mohamed Olad told CPJ.

The public and local press feared violence after two former ruling party officials alleged there had been vote rigging in favor of the opposition in five precincts, Abdi told CPJ. “But I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the offices of Radio Hargeisa,” Abdi said. “I found Radio Hargeisa staff actually complaining that the allegations were false and could lead to post-election violence.” Even Riyale supporters objected to the allegations and the two officials were arrested, Abdi added.

How has Somaliland kept the elections and its media coverage relatively peaceful? “They have learned from example—the bad example of their neighbors,” said Olad, who often reports in the war-torn Somali capital, Mogadishu. Somaliland has become a haven for exiled Mogadishu journalists fleeing the fighting in Somalia, where 33 journalists have been killed for their work since 1993.

Somaliland journalists told me they now hope government and media relations will improve under Silyano. Whereas Riyale was a former intelligence official and wary of the press, Mohamed said, Silyano was more open with the press as an opposition party leader. “But let’s wait and see,” a cautious Amin told me, as opposition leaders often change their spots once they attain power. A once-popular Senegalese opposition leader, Abdoulaye Wade, had promised upon his 2000 presidential election to decriminalize libel laws against the press. A disgruntled local Senegalese press, who had strongly supported his 2000 candidacy, is still waiting.

Daily Nation says Gov’t fed misinformation on bombing: “We are surrounded by liars.”

Mutumu Mathiu, Managing Editor of the Daily Nation, explains the confusion about the facts of the grenade killings in Uhuru Park:

For every inaccurate report in the newspaper, there is a chain of people who have lied and misled the press.

An official I called told me only 24 people had been hurt. Complete disinformation. Our reporter had physically counted 75 patients.
. . . .
Finally, officials speculated that it was a home-made device, made from party crackers. This is what we told Kenyans who read our early editions.

We are surrounded by liars. The government does not hire people to give information to the media. It hires liars to mislead the media.

Update: Good writing on the context of the bombing from Jeffrey Gettleman in the NY Times.

Tom Maliti of AP covers the chill on political books in Kenya

“Kenya bookshops refuse politically sensitive books”

This is a good piece that will help with an understanding of the actual limits on freedom of expression in Kenya as it relates to anything that might offend powerful members of the political class who use the courts and other tools to intimidate. Booksellers have titles on controversial topics–just not on key areas of Kenyan politics.

Tom covered the fall 2007 IRI Kenyan opinion poll and I got to know him then and through subsequent reporting and I was always impressed with his knowledge and professionalism.