The media in Kenya is facing different pressures from different areas — legal threats, economic challenges, fluid audience behaviour and the COVID-19 pandemic. To establish how the media is coping (and could cope) in 2021 and beyond, Internews conducted an industry assessment.
Using both qualitative (key informant interviews, focus group discussions, observation, and desktop research) as well as quantitative (survey) research methods; it was determined that Kenya’s media environment is complex and relatively advanced. From pre-independent Kenya to-date, the media development trajectory has mirrored the country’s history from colonial times to the present. With significant print, television, radio, online and social media offerings, the sector is also enriched by the presence of media associations and international media support organisations.
Although most Kenyans are comfortable with the quality of news and information they get from the media; fake news (79 per cent of Kenyans say they receive it), production quality, and the topics, depth and accuracy of the content offered have emerged as key content quality challenges worthy of in-depth attention. Also worrying is the decline in data journalism which peaked between 2012 and 2015. It could, and should, improve given the COVID-19 pandemic which requires making sense of the statistics the Ministry of Health reels off every day.
Further, the last decade has witnessed an erosion of the economic vibrancy of legacy media in Kenya. For one, newspaper circulation has been dropping since 2013, while television took a big hit in 2014 when the digital migration process began. Contrary to common belief that radio is the main source of news and information, it has given way to social media.
Legally, the freedom of the media is guaranteed in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 (Articles 33, 34 and 35). However, practically, the media in Kenya is governed by various laws fragmented within different sections of the civil and criminal law making the constitutional guarantees inimical to freedom.
There are stark lessons to be learnt from this assessment: Social media has become the main source of news and information for majority of Kenyans, even though it suffers the greatest trust deficit. Radio remains highly important, while television is the most trusted source of information and newspaper circulation and readership continue to decline — even though newspapers have the highest quality content. The study also found that self-censorship is rife; media sustainability remains a key concern and media freedom has been deteriorating since 2017.
To improve media performance in Kenya, three key gaps were identified for plugging. These are skills gaps (the knowledge media personnel need to perform their work effectively); resource shortages (the resources media entities need to execute their mandate); and policy gaps (an enabling environment for the media to thrive).