A report on media freedoms has raised concerns over sensationalization of news on online platforms and hate speech as denigrating the public duty media plays in society. The African Media Barometer (AMB) report 2016 says that online platforms – including those of more established media houses – frequently carry erroneous and incomplete information, mostly aimed at driving traffic to their sites and attracting adverts.

The report adds that the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has moved its work to online sources of information as it seeks to stem hate speech in the country.

The role of social media has sharply increased, but with concerns of increased online hate speech and political incitement. This has also affected the mainstream media as the traditional sources of news, reads the report in part.

AMB report is an in-depth and comprehensive description and measurement system for national media environments on the African continent. Unlike other press surveys or media indices the AMB is a self assessment exercise based on home-grown criteria derived from African Protocols and Declarations like the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (2002) by the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights. The instrument was jointly developed by Fesmedia Africa, the Media Project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Africa, and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in 2004.

On a positive note, the report says that social media has grown and has great influence, driving the process of breaking news and improving citizens’ engagement with leaders and the government.

However, it records that this growth on blogs and social media platforms particularly Facebook and Twitter has irked some government officials, politicians and the corporate sector who have been calling for the regulation of online platforms.

It casts doubts on government’s commitment to media freedom owing to surveillance and attempts to pull down content by making requests to institutions like Google. It says

Since 2013, there have been efforts at active snooping or surveillance on internet users in Kenya. This initially targeted some leaders of civil society groups deemed to have been involved in the International Criminal Court (ICC) process and the Post-Election Violence rehabilitation processes of the internally displaced persons.

The government has made several requests to users, or requested Google, to pull down content deemed “offensive” from some sites.

The African Media Barometer is an analytical exercise to measure the media situation in a given country which at the same time serves as a practical lobbying tool for media reform. Its results are presented to the public of the respective country to push for an improvement of the media situation using the AU Declaration and other African standards as benchmarks. It is undertaken every three to four years. The recommendations of the AMB-reports are then integrated into the work of the 19 country offices of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in sub-Sahara Africa and into the advocacy efforts of other local media organisations like the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

Find the report here