1st June. This is a day we commemorate Madaraka Day in Kenya but among internet enthusiasts, it is Kenya bloggers day. Started in 2006, it was set aside as a day where Kenyan bloggers can come together in one voice and celebrate their freedom of expression without any restrictions. Kenyan Bloggers Day gives bloggers a platform to remind one another of the reason why they blog in the first place. It is a day where bloggers are recognized and remembered for their efforts to inform, educate and entertain.
In recent years, it has come increasingly difficult for Kenyan bloggers to voice their opinions giving rise to question of how free internet freedom in Kenya really is. According to last years report by BAKE on the State of the Internet in Kenya, a total of 60 bloggers were arrested in 2016 alone. BAKE Chairman, Kennedy Kachwanya expressed his concerns on the alarming rate of journalists and bloggers arrest saying that the government and the police were coming up with legal ways to silence them.
Blogging is fast rising in the Kenyan scene and with the incorporation of social media, it has become very easy to reach the target audience who in turn spread the message. Social media has been a useful tool in voicing the plight of bloggers in Kenya. But what makes bloggers vulnerable?
Many people view blogging and journalism as different entities but the truth of the matter is that they are entwined. Any bill that affects mainstream media will directly or indirectly affect online media and consequently blogging. The fact that Kenyan media houses employ bloggers in their newsrooms goes a long way to show how symbiotic blogging and journalism are.
The new media bill has given legislative powers to the government to impose heavy fines to journalists. The repressive legislation, which hands a government-appointed tribunal powers to heavily fine media houses and journalists has been variously described in the Kenyan press as “one of the harshest in the region,” as well as “unprecedented,” and “punitive,” in addition to “unlawful,” and “draconian.” It is also argued that it is unconstitutional, and is contrary to Article 34(2) of the Constitution which provides for media freedom and freedom of expression. The Media Council of Kenya, which is a regulatory body for journalists have required bloggers to have qualifications which means that they can be prosecuted like any other journalist in case they voice opinions that are considered defamatory. Also, it doesn’t help the fact that the signals the mainstream media uses is government owned which means they can be shut at any time if the government smells something fishy.
In as much as bloggers and journalists are intertwined, they serve different purposes. A journalist will report stories that are of importance to the public; that is, those that directly affect the public. They are neutral and do not let their emotions come in the way of their reporting. As for blogging, they use emotional appeal as a way to communicate to their readers. They critique issues that are of importance to their audience. They fuel social debates and public opinion on social media with their opinions readily accepted as the gospel truth. As a result, bloggers are feared. Most bloggers have been accused of posting ‘false news’ which has not been verified way before media houses have a chance to broadcast it. They have been accused to have no restrictions and have refused to be bound by the law- a situation which has fueled a massive debate on their role in the communication sphere.
It is true that bloggers are not journalists. But it is also true that bloggers influence the way opinion is shaped in the society just like journalist. With the emergence of new media and internet technology it is safe to say that the blogging culture is not going anywhere any time soon.