KENYA: Uproar as a handful of MPs pass draconian media law

mpsDemocracy is under attack in Kenya as the country’s vibrant media has found itself under constant pressure by the Jubilee government of President Uhuru Kenyatta who came to power on March 4.

Just weeks after the Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo attempted to have two prominent TV journalists arrested and charged because of a critical report they aired, the Jubilee-dominated parliament on October 31 passed a highly toxic media bill that would kill press freedom in Kenya if it became law.

Media houses and journalists could be fined hefty sums if the breached any provision of the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya. Reporters could also be banned from practising.

The bill creates a government-run tribunal that would supervise journalism in Kenya, to replace the current broad-based Media Council of Kenya that handles complaints against journalists and media houses.

The proposed tribunal with powers to impose a fine of up to USD 24,000 for media houses deemed to have offended the law, and USD 12,000 for individual journalists.

The bill has sparked outrage among media professionals in and outside the country and among Kenyans in general. The Kenyan media consistently enjoys the highest approval ratings from public among all the institutions.

“This is shocking and outraging. It’s a blow to democracy and free speech in a country that has always been seen as a model in Africa”, said Gabriel Baglo, director of International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Africa Office.

“Kenya Correspondents Association is alarmed and dismayed that the national assembly went ahead and passed the Kenya Information and Communications Bill 2013 with all the attendant provisions that clearly threaten press freedom, freedom of expression and the overall democratic gains that Kenya has achieved over the years”, said KCA Chairman William Oloo Janak.

Media houses, freedom of expression organisations and other activists are urging President Kenyatta not to sign the bill into law. The president has signalled he may refer the bill back to parliament.

The Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution, a pubic body mandated to monitor, co-ordinate, facilitate and oversee the implementation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, described the new bill as unconstitutional.

“Pursuant to our Mandate, CIC wishes to inform the people of Kenya, that having considered the Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Bill in light of the Constitution, we are of the opinion that the Bill contains provisions which are unconstitutional and if enacted in its current state will inadvertently erode the gains made in the Constitution to ensure freedom of the Media.”

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