A new report - Factually True, Legally Untrue - Political Media Ownership in Kenya - looks at the political ownership of media outlets in Kenya. The research has brought together journalists and editors to talk about the challenges posed by media ownership, especially in light of the upcoming March 2013 election.
With the General Elections fast approaching, some Kenyan newsrooms continue to show worrisome behaviour. Stories are scrapped, dubious opinion polls are published and in some instances, particular candidates or parties are clearly favoured, undermining the credibility of the media outlet and contributing to biased coverage of a major national event.
If you ask Kenyan journalists what is taking place at the editorial level, they will unanimously respond: “Media ownership.” An editor from Eldoret, Rift Valley highlights the difficult position that editorial staff are in: “I am an editor of an enterprise where the owner at times intercepts my reporters in a bid to alter our editorial perspectives. He actually changes content to suit his desires and those of his political friends. I have threatened to resign if he continues.”
Internews wanted to further explore the issue of media ownership in Kenya and commissioned Researcher Othieno Nyanjom to conduct a nationwide investigation into political ownership of the full range of media outlets.
The report finds that while media ownership is sometimes obvious, media owners often use their spouse, parents or trusted friends to register their media outlets, making it difficult to obtain clear data on media ownership. For instance, the researcher notes that the connection of presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta with MediaMax (owner of Kameme FM, Milele FM, The People and K24 among others) is factually true but legally untrue because the name of Uhuru Kenyatta does not appear in any legal document.
Over 500 copies of the report have been printed and disseminated to newsrooms, media regulatory bodies, media organizations and civil society groups. This report was used to directly engage stakeholders on the issue of political interference or control.
In December 2012, Internews brought together a range of senior and middle media managers in Mombasa, Eldoret and Nairobi in a series of three half-day events. The roundtables were an opportunity for journalists and editors to talk about the challenges posed by political ownership, and to explore ways for editorial staff to report more fairly on the electoral process. A significant amount of time was spent discussing the implications of political ownership of media enterprises in the upcoming elections.
An interactive online map has been developed on the Internews in Kenya website to reflect the Kenyan media environment and the findings of the report. This is a public resource. Journalists as well as members of the public can post comments on the way their favorite media outlets cover the elections.