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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 December, 2003, 15:59 GMT
Kenya's 'gutter press' shut down
By Chris Greenway
BBC Monitoring, Nairobi

Nairobi street scene
The papers have disappeared from Nairobi's pavements
Kenya's newspaper vendors have stopped selling unlicensed, sensational publications for fear of arrest.

The papers often contain lurid reports about Kenya's rich and famous with headlines such as "Minister, priest in sex romp" or "MP faints in toilet".

The attorney-general on Tuesday said the "alternative press" was illegal and said he would apply the law against it.

However, the vendors say the law should target those who write the papers, not those who sell them on the pavements.


Anyone caught selling illegal publications faces six months in jail and a fine of 20,000 shillings ($250).

The scandal sheets - which include such titles as Dispatch, Kenya Confidential, and Weekly Citizen - have been a feature of Nairobi street life for some years.

Generally printed on cheap paper, the quality of printing is often low and the standards of layout and presentation do not normally match those of mainstream papers.

Their articles and reports are generally unsigned, and some of the news sheets do not even carry the names of their publisher.

They specialize in three subjects:

  • the analysis of current political developments, usually from a supposedly inside knowledge of behind-the-scenes events;
  • scurrilous and frequently defamatory exposes of the alleged misdeeds of prominent political figures and
  • other gossip about the famous.

Media freedom

Ironically, the news sheets - even those which carried lurid headlines about the supposed activities of leading government figures - were openly displayed and sold during the closing years of the rule of President Daniel arap Moi, who had gained a reputation for restricting media freedom.

Former President Daniel arap Moi
Moi government passed the law but never implemented it
Yet they are now being targeted by the government of President Mwai Kibaki and his National Rainbow Coalition (Narc), which ousted Mr Moi's Kanu party in elections last December, and which has proclaimed itself to be in favour of lighter regulation of the media.

Indeed, the law that the attorney-general is now invoking was introduced by Kanu in 2002, amidst widespread concern and criticism in Kenya and abroad.

In fact no prosecutions appear to have been brought under the law up to now.

Kenyan politicians have long expressed outrage at reports in the gutter press.

Last month the information minister hit out at them when some papers began listing what they said was the HIV status of certain MPs.

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Country profile: Kenya
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