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Kenya Falls In Annual Press Freedom Rankings
Mwai Kibaki (file)
A supporter of Kenya 's opposition leader Raila Odinga taunts a Kenyan policeman during a demonstration in Kisumu , Kenya , 16 Jan 2008
By Derek Kilner
The Paris-based organization Reporters without Borders called Kenya one of the "black spots" in Africa , falling from number 78 to number 97 in the rankings of 173 countries.
The group tied Kenya 's drop down its list to the outbreak of violence that followed presidential elections in December, in which more than 1,100 people were killed.
The Kenyan government imposed a ban on live news broadcasts on December 30 last year, as results declaring the re-election of Mwai Kibaki were announced. The ban stayed in place until early February.
International and local press freedom organizations also criticized Kenya 's media for a timid approach to its coverage of the post-election events, putting more emphasis on avoiding ethnic tensions in the country and less on critical reporting on the actors involved.
A report by Reporters Without Borders and the rights group Article 19 described widespread self-censorship.
Article 19 program officer John Gachie works in Nairobi .
He said, "Since the post-election violence, the media in Kenya has been, I would say, very uneasy and hesitant. Initially they were accused perhaps of being too eager and too ready to fan, so to speak, violence. And I think the media felt they were unfairly under scrutiny. And the media has perhaps been more cautious, unduly so, because they felt intimidated."
The country has returned to relative calm since a power-sharing agreement was signed between the country's two main political parties in late February. But Gachie said the media continues to be cautious.
"I think the media is slowly recapturing its past energy, perhaps not as fast as we would have expected," he said. "It is a very slow process. I think like everybody else in the country, people are trying to reassert, reclaim their lost ground. Perhaps the media has not done that faster than we would have expected."
Media freedom watchdogs have also flagged some other episodes in the past year. Reporters were barred from covering a security operation against a militia operating in the country's western Mount Elgon region in March.
And in October, a spokesman for the International Seafarers Association in the port city of Mombasa was arrested after speaking to the media about a shipment of arms hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia . Like many observers, the spokesman suggested the arms, which were to arrive in Kenya , were intended for the semi-autonomous government of Southern Sudan . The Kenyan government has maintained that the arms are for their own use.
Among African countries, Namibia , Mali , and Cape Verde performed best on the press-freedom index. Eritrea , meanwhile, was the world's lowest-ranked country for the second year in a row. Other poor performers in Africa include Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo .