Nairobi, 11 October, 2011– As Kenya’s recent challenges with licensing of private broadcasting stations come to a head, a new report by the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP) and the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA) on public broadcasting in Kenya has implored law and policy makers to show political will and transform the national broadcaster into a truly independent public broadcaster, which will serve the interests of the Kenyan citizens. The report states that this is an obligation that parliament has, because the 2010 Constitution compels it to make provision for such a transformation.
Presently, KBC is owned and fully controlled by government, and is not independent of the clutches of executive power. The minister of information and communications appoints the managing director, and is entitled to make decisions as to the way the national broadcaster is run. This is against the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which prescribes that government controlled broadcasters should be transformed into a public service broadcasters, accountable to the public through the legislature rather than the government. The report further states that the present governance model, which points to an absence of editorial independence, also contravenes the country’s 2010 Constitution.
“Kenya’s liberalisation of the media, and broadcasting in particular, has been a vital ingredient for democracy. By providing for broadcasting regulation that is independent of control by government, political interests or commercial interests, Section 34(3) of the new constitution presents an excellent opportunity of transforming KBC into a truly independent public entity that will serve the interest of the many and not just the few,” said Ozias Tungwarara, director of AfriMAP.
The report points to failure of reforms of KBC, and states that the lack of political will across the spectrum, and lack of concern by private media houses due to self serving interests, are largely responsible for the status quo. It raises a red flag for the lack of transparency on the corporation’s budget, especially its allocation of resources to various departments and ultimately concludes that the corporation is technically insolvent. The corporation’s annual revenue is 800 million Kenyan shillings, while its operating expenditure stands at 1.2 billion.
The report goes further to assert that there is urgent need to also draft a policy of media ownership that reduces monopolisation of the media sector, with the aim of creating diversity. It also points to current laws that contravene the 2010 Constitution, which stifles media freedom. Foremost amongst which are: sections 194 to 199 of the penal code which criminalises defamation; sections 67 which still gives special protection to dignitaries; section 66 and 77- which focuses on false statements and subversion; section 2 9d) of the Preservation of Public security Act, which empowers the president to limit freedom of expression. All these, the report states must be repealed. ‘Freedom of information legislation needs to be developed with full participation of civil society to give effect to the right to access to information as guaranteed in article 35 of the new 2010 Constitution,’ the report concludes.
The researcher of the Kenya Broadcasting report is Grace Githaiga, PhD candidate at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi, Kenya. The 126 page report makes key recommendations in the media laws and operations of the public broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), divided into 9 sections: media laws; the broadcasting landscape; digital migration; broadcast legislation and regulation; KBC funding; programming; perceptions of KBC; broadcast reforms.