A Loss for Kenyan Democracy
Recent resignations of eight top columnists at Kenya’s largest newspaper are a reminder that press freedom means more than letting journalists say what they want, how they want. It also means holding media owners accountable, and remaining vigilant against new forms of government interference and censorship.
NAIROBI – On March 27, eight columnists from the Nation Media Group resigned from the Nation newspaper, citing a lack of editorial independence. For Kenya’s largest daily, the exodus of top talent was the latest blow to an already tarnished reputation. The newspaper has suffered a series of embarrassing episodes in recent months, including high-profile firings, mass layoffs by the parent company, and allegations of state meddling in the editorial process.
But the resignations were more than another repudiation of a once-vaunted institution; they were a reminder that the media remain a powerful player in Kenya’s fledgling democracy. When governments constrain journalists – in Kenya or elsewhere – they do so at their own peril.
Like many African countries, Kenya has a long tradition of what might be called “activist journalism” – the dissemination of news and ideas to inspire political or social action. The practice has its roots in anti-colonialism; when the Nation was founded in 1960, it joined other pan-African publications like the New African and Drum to oppose colonial rule. By giving Kenyans a platform to voice their dissent, the Nation – led by its journalists – helped protesters articulate the ideas, slogans, and catchphrases that animated their movements. For many columnists, simply writing for these magazines was an act of resistance.