An assessment of types and sources of threats to press freedom and mitigation measures during the Covid-19 pandemic in Kenya

The onset of the impact of the COVID-19 containment measures by the Government of Kenya upon the declaration of the virus as a pandemic in March 2019 included increased violation of press freedom and access to information.

Among the measures announced by the Government included a national lockdown of the country, mandatory putting on of masks, social distancing, centralisation of information sharing on the pandemic through the Ministry of Health among others under the public health Act. Media practitioners were under the public notice exempted from the curfew restrictions but had to acquire a special COVID-19 Movement Press Card from the Media Council of Kenya.

In addition, the media industry through individual media houses introduced measures aimed at both cutting down costs for doing business and in line with public health measures, to ensure the protection of staff, which influenced press freedom.

Several media houses sacked journalists, reduced staff numbers, asked staff to work from home, and reduced staff salaries and related allowances while in some cases, several journalists became infected or affected by the pandemic including journalists being sent into isolation centres, getting ill and reported deaths, and or family members being infected.

More critically is that following the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic, the number of cases of harassment of journalists and hostilities towards the media in Kenya reported to the Media Council of Kenya significantly increased.

These especially emerged from the security agencies, online trolling of journalists, and exposure to risks associated with Coronavirus because due to pressure by editors to cover such incidences. There was an increase in denial of information in some instances from the authorities. One media house in Kericho closed from the COVID-19 impact.

Journalists and media workers across the country reported attacks from the police and their equipment confiscated, intimidated, and made to flee by goons and well-known personalities while a few media houses were taken to courts to gag them against publishing on certain topics, organisations, or personalities.

Attacks and harassment of journalists violate several Constitutional provisions in Kenya including, Articles25 (freedom from torture and degrading treatment), 28 (freedom to be treated with dignity) 29 (freedom to security) 33 (freedom of expression), 34 (media freedoms), 35 (Access to information and 41 (on labour rights).

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