THE KENYA INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION (AMENDMENT) BILL
The Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Bill passed its third reading in the National Assembly last night in the most dubious of circumstances. This bill, that threatens hard-won press freedoms in Kenya, should never have reached this stage and should not have been passed having done so.
The damage done by our craven, stupid and lax MPs can however be rectified by one man and so it is that the Kenya Forum calls on President Uhuru Kenyatta: “MR PRESIDENT, PLEASE, DO NOT SIGN THIS BILL INTO LAW”!
POLITICALLY APPOINTED MEDIA TRIBUNAL
The Bill, if passed into law after signature by the President, will allow the replacement of the media’s current self-regulatory system through the Complaints Commission of the Media Council, with the setting up of a ‘Communications and Multimedia Appeal Tribunal’, a politically appointed body armed with sweeping powers.
The new Tribunal will be appointed by the Information Cabinet Secretary theoretically based on the advice of a five member panel drawn from the Information Ministry, the Media Council, telecommunications service providers, the Courier Industry Association of Kenya and the Communications Authority. In reality this body will be controlled by the government.
Once established the Tribunal will have the power to order a media house to pay a fine of up to Sh20 million and/or an individual journalist to pay a fine of Sh1 million. The Tribunal will also be able to recommend the suspension or removal of a journalist from the register of journalists, i.e., put him or her out of work.
One clause in the Bill, Clause 102E(i), gives the Tribunal sweeping powers to “make any supplementary or ancillary orders or directions that it may consider necessary for carrying out orders or directives.”
Although Kenya’s constitution prohibits the control of media the same constitution also allows parliament to draft a law regulating the media through compliance rules.
ONLY 28 MPS IN THE HOUSE
Disgracefully there were only 28 MPs in the Assembly chamber last night when the Bill was being discussed (which was not televised), not enough to reach the necessary quorum (50 MPs) for a vote, so 32 other MPs were hastily dragged into the chamber. When it came to a verbal vote there was only the shout of “Aye” to be heard, no “Nays”, so the third reading was passed unanimously.
WHERE WAS THE OPPOSITION?
The Kenya Forum asks why were so few MPs in the Assembly for the debate and vote? Raila Odinga has issued a statement saying “It is my hope that we are not trying to copy and paste the draconian laws of our neighbours, though I fear we may be”. This is a worthy sentiment but it begs the question, where were the ODM MPs last night? Did the party managers not read or understand the order paper for the day?
“BLATANT VIOLATION OF PRESS FREEDOM”
As Lucas Barasa writes in today’s Daily Nation, the Bill could put Kenya in the same bracket in terms of press freedom as Zimbabwe, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia Iran and Kuwait.
Joseph Odindo, Editorial Director of the Nation Media Group, called the Media Bill “retrogressive” and posed the question, “Why do our rulers need so much power to control the media?”
As reported in the Daily Nation, Macharia Gaitho, chairman of Kenya’s Editor’s Guild, described the Bill as ‘an affront to the media’, whilst Peter Leftie, chairman of the Kenya Union of Journalists, called it a “blatant violation of press freedom” that even President Moi’s government did not reach.
The Kenya Forum repeats its call:
President Kenyatta, if you value press freedom, please do not sign this draconian bill into law!