Observers often depict Sweden’s media landscape as a democratic corporatist. “Ideologically, however, the Swedish media system could be described as a mixture between classical liberal ideas of the press as an independent ‘fourth estate’, and social responsibility ideas concerning the necessity for cooperative relationships between the political system and the media system in order to maintain diversity and public service,” Jesper Strömbäck and Lars Nord, Swedish political communication scholars, wrote in their article on the nexus between media and politics in Sweden.

On the other hand, Kenya’s media landscape is characterized as East Africa’s most vibrant but sometimes profoundly compromised. Kenya’s colonial history, the reintroduction of political pluralism, the liberalization of the press in the 1990s, and the advent of internet technologies have helped shape the country’s media industry.

The pursuit of media professionalism

Kenya’s media has also been transitioning towards more professionalism, especially since the 2007/2013(Amended) Media Act. Similarly, there has been a push for more professional autonomy granted constitutional protections that guarantee press freedom.

Both Sweden and Kenya’s media landscapes play host to private and commercial media enterprises and, in varying degrees, report high levels of trust from their audiences. Moreover, digital technologies have impacted media operations in both of these countries. In turn, these technologies have inevitably compelled media organizations to innovate their economic models, which have traditionally relied on advertising revenue.

Against this overview, I draw on three notable aspects of the Swedish media landscape that could strengthen Kenya’s evolving media. These include; a reasonably strong public service media, a free press and a high degree of professionalism.

Although there has been tremendous progress, Kenya’s media still struggles with undue political interference, as evidenced by sporadic harassment from the government, coupled with economic constraints amplified by the effects of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic. Kenya’s journalism practice needs strengthening, having come under scrutiny in recent years for its perceived lack of professionalism and ethical failures.

According to a 2017 article by Kenya based media critic Patrick Gathara, the country’s news reporting is best known for regurgitating statements from politicians and fails to engage in investigative journalism that establishes the truth.

Taking the lessons

Consequently, what can Kenya’s media landscape learn from Sweden’s Public Service Media (PSM)?

The principal core value that underlies Sweden’s PSM is the concept of universalism. Media and communication scholars Hilde Van den Bulck and Hallvard Moe deconstruct what this entails in an article interrogating this concept within the realm of PSM.

There is the idea of ‘universal appeal’ where PSM is expected to produce programming that speaks to the diverse interests of different socio-demographics within the citizenry to ensure a well-informed citizenry, which results in a well-functioning democracy.

In turn, it fosters a national identity. Another aspect of universalism is an intentional focus on minority interests, including high culture and educational focus, the scholars explain. Indeed, universalism is especially important, granted that Sweden’s PSM is publicly funded through an individual public service fee collected through the tax system.

As a result, there is a greater expectation for public accountability, balance and impartiality, and independence from political and economic pressures. Reflecting on the value of universalism, it is no wonder that even amid ideological, technological and commercial pressures, Sweden’s PSM remains among the most trusted and popular news sources, according to the 2020 Reuter’s Digital News Report.

The same cannot be said of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), a state-funded news media corporation perceived as Kenya’s public service broadcaster. Reuter’s Digital News Report ranked KBC among the less trusted media enterprises far below commercial broadcasters in the country. KBC has often been criticized for its continued amplification of voices mainly sympathetic to the government of the day.

This approach is of much concern because KBC has a more nationwide reach, particularly in rural areas, compared to other broadcasters.

Strength in diversity 

Nonetheless, KBC has made tremendous progress in promoting diversity of voices and programming, especially its radio division, broadcasting in a variety of languages reflective of different ethnicities. Its core values in some ways mirror those of Sweden’s PSM. The main difference is how and the extent to which these values are implemented.

Since taxpayers fund KBC, it must reflect programming that lives up in practice to its stated core values. It is no secret that Kenya’s media has been complicit in fanning the flames of ethnic violence, especially during elections. Thus, as the national broadcaster, KBC should set itself apart by being more intentional about representing all voices impartially.

Another aspect of Sweden’s media landscape that could be useful to its Kenyan counterpart is a push for a more unrestrained press. Free media is essential to the proper functioning and preservation of democracy. The press ought to perform its normative roles of informing the citizenry and holding public officials accountable without interference from governmental or commercial influences.

While the former can impose restrictive regulation, the latter prioritizes profit at the expense of accurate and objective information. Going by the 2020 World Press Index Freedom rankings, Sweden ranks fourth, compared to Kenya’s 103rd position, out of a possible 180 countries compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

According to the freedom index report, Sweden has historically enjoyed a strong tradition of independent journalism. As early as 1766, Sweden became the first country in the world to include a Freedom of Information Act in its Constitution, comprising the freedoms of expression and information. Sweden’s media is self-regulated and has an independent press council. And even though the state plays a significant role in media policymaking, it does so with a consciousness of protecting press freedoms.

The same can generally be said of the Kenyan media landscape, at least in theory. As earlier stated, Kenya’s media practice is constitutionally protected, including freedoms of expression and information, unless that speech leads to incitement and violence. However, the latter has provided a loophole for harassment, granted that it is not adequately clear what or who determines what hate speech is.

Kenya’s media is independently regulated by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), an organization tasked with registering and accrediting journalists, media establishments and adjudicating complaints.

Therefore, protecting media freedom is paramount since the media in Kenya, like other emerging African democracies, is regarded as a nation-building force crucial to sustaining the democratization process.

The dynamism of Kenya’s media

There is no doubt that there is a growing degree of professionalism evident in Kenya’s media landscape. Kenya’s media is continuously redefining and reinventing itself against the country’s complex political and economic structures. For instance, all the major news organizations are now signatories to the media code of conduct and journalism schools offering standardized journalism training courses have increased.

That said, ideological differences still abound between long-serving journalists and a so-called “newer breed” of journalists, making it a good breeding ground for editorial rigidity and limited opportunity for re-invention. Politicians still wield significant influence on media operations.

In addition, the media’s core business of news is often undermined by various business interests, corruption (brown envelope syndrome) and self-censorship. Compare this with Sweden’s media landscape where journalists, for instance, have more autonomy, better pay structures, a good gender balance, hence an environment that breeds more professionalism.

In conclusion, is there anything that Kenyan media can learn from Sweden’s media? The simple answer is yes. The more complex answer is that these are two very different countries, one with well-established public institutions and an emerging, often fragile democracy.

Besides, Sweden’s media landscape also faces many challenges, such as dealing with misinformation, fake news, and whether the public service media adequately reflects Sweden’s growing diversity. There is also the rise of alternative right-wing news sites that promote an anti-immigrant agenda, challenging the traditional media portrayal of a diverse Sweden, to mention a few.



About the Author


Author ProfileJoy Kibarabara
Joy is a doctoral candidate at Stockholm University’s department of media studies. Her research focuses on the emerging field of constructive journalism, particularly its implication on African journalism practice. Her research takes a praxis-based approach with the aim of building bridges between journalism practice and academia. Professionally, Joy has worked as a journalist and lecturer in media studies and presented her research at various academic conferences.

Similar articles


Meet the Tanzanian journalist passionate about the right to clean water and sanitation

Mohammed Hammie is not your typical reporter. In 2019, the young Tanzanian swapped from being a regular journalist to media for community empowerment and has since specialised in telling stories about the human right to access clean drinking water, particularly in rural areas.


AKU students media research spotlights hits and misses of Kenya’s media

The theses dwelt on thematic areas in Kenya’s media landscape, from solutions journalism, content analysis of the coverage of Covid-19 as well as data smog in the newsrooms, which  the findings show is having a devastating effect on print journalists.


Media Viability Study East Africa: Five interesting findings you should know

The study calls for solutions to structural, political, and societal conditions that jeopardize the future of media as a viable business and a source of high-quality journalism in East Africa


Covid-19: Kenyan journalists go behind the story

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has altered our lives in unimaginable ways. Economies are bleeding. It has disrupted learning; millions have lost their jobs, while many others contend with reduced salaries. Yet, amidst the chaos and disruption, journalists – also hugely affected – have remained steadfast to their cause to tell stories of the pandemic. Some of them narrated their experiences to EAST site’s writer Isaac Swila.


OPINION: Modern journalism faces an existential threat

The Covid-19 pandemic and the technological shifts have caused severe consequences to today’s press. However, Prof George Nyabuga says the writing has long been on the wall, yet many chose to bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.


East Africa’s media powerhouses use convergence in business to stay afloat 

Ever since 170 journalists from Kenya’s Standard Group were made redundant in 2020, media experts argue that convergence of business processes in the media industry is an inevitable and necessary step. The term convergence has dominated media houses for years. But what does it mean and why is it crucial for the future of journalism in the region?


The changing face of Kenyan newsrooms – a case of Standard Media Group

The digital and social media experience has disrupted the media industry in unprecedented ways. Gone are the days when media houses could solely rely on revenues generated from the sale of content, for example, newspapers. Kenya’s Standard Media Group understood the need to adapt to the ‘new digital newsroom’ and embarked on a three-year- restructuring programme, but the change is not without challenges as Peter Oduor found out


Paywall: A challenging but promising business model for Kenya’s news media 

Kenya’s leading newspapers – The Nation, Star, and The Standard, recently set up paywalls on their online content. Though some readers are complaining, the uptake has been impressive. Senior editors who spoke to EAST Site’s writer, Isaac Swila, insist the paywall is the future.


How audience participation has changed the media 

What do Kenya’s post-election violence, Sudan’s protests that toppled President Omar al-Bashir, and the Arab Spring have in common? The audience played a crucial role in informing the world where journalists were restricted in one way or the other. Today, direct audience engagement in the news cycle has brought far-reaching changes to the media industry.


MCI Uganda: Grooming journalists for the 21st century job market

The belief that journalism can make the world a better place is why the Media Challenge Initiative exists. This aspiration has become more evident during Covid-19, where journalists are at the frontlines of fighting the pandemic across the globe.


‘Future of journalism is video’: Chimpreports founder Muhame

Ten years ago, an ambitious and daring Giles Muhame started an online platform at Makerere University. The platform’s main idea was to bring news in real-time. Initially, the online platform struggled as the audience was still rigid, preferring traditional modes of news consumption such as radio, print, and television.


Fostering Media Viability beyond the global crisis

One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic has been the dramatic shift in the global digital landscape and digital business. Africa’s media industry needs vision, innovation, transformation, collaboration, and adaptability to develop agile business models.


Debunk Media: We head into the future of journalism with skills to serve an essential need

Debunk Media, a platform for explanatory journalism wants young Africans to understand how big events in their environments affect them and why those events are important to them… It wants to show them the little dots and the invisible lines that join these events.


Gender agenda: a reflection of the hurdles women in media face

The changing dimensions and presentation of the challenges facing women in the newsroom and the media as a whole call for a dynamic approach by women, gender and general human rights activists.


The pandemic: A mirror moment for the media in East Africa

Almost all newsrooms, big and small, have had their operations severely affected by the devastating disruption wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic leading to loss of hundreds of jobs. Worse still, revenue sources for broadcast and print publications have shrunk as businesses collapse.


Media Viability: ‘Success is more than clicks and profit’

Job cuts, pay cuts, content reduction and closures – that is what many media outlets are currently facing. Some blame digitalization and the coronavirus pandemic. But could it be that they got their priorities wrong in the first place?


Why media freedom is still a mirage in Eastern Africa

Freedom of the media is the cornerstone of a just and democratic society to promote socio-economic and political developments even though Eastern African countries fashion the independence for the sake of complying with international obligations.  


Uganda’s media: Threats and opportunities

The state of the media in Uganda has been the subject of several studies and commentaries. Whether critical or favourable, all attempts to analyze the health of journalism in the country tend to coalesce over its contradictions.


The State of East Africa’s Media: A comparative review of media viability factors

Journalists and the news media organisations in East Africa are today confronted with unprecedented economic and market challenges, increasing distrust, denigration of the journalistic work, and new forms of digital repression exacerbated by Covid-19.


Tanzanian elections coverage: weak policy framework and lack of democratic space

In open societies where democracy flourish, the media plays a critical watchdog role by not only putting into check but also questioning the excesses of the government. Sadly, in Tanzanian media space these pillars seem to lack.


Solutions Journalism: Viable framework for rethinking Kenya’s journalism practice

While solutions journalism as a news philosophy presents many opportunities for the strengthening of journalism practice in Kenya and by extension Africa; it is certainly not a quick fix.


Post Covid-19: Reimagining Kenya’s media future

Just like New York Times adjusted to digital disruption, Covid-19 has presented an opportunity for local media houses to analyze the emerging trends and audience behaviour to come up with innovative ways of generating revenues.