Tuesday, December 16, 2008




Yes, Mr President, Parliament has done it again: It has passed offensive legislation that seeks to return this country to a regime of retrogressive media control.

It only took a few legislators — said to number 25 and, thus, within the threshold of doubtful quorum — to pass this draconian legislation. What does the august House consider ‘quorum’, anyway? It is said to be 30 members in a Parliament of 222. How can we possibly allow a handful of members to commit the country legislatively on matters of posterity?

The main actor in the control frenzy remains Mr Samuel Poghisio, whose tenure as Information and Communication minister shall become an indelible reminder of ignominy in the history of Press freedom if the proposals become law.

His ODM-Kenya counterpart and Assistant Minister for Defence, David Musila, was equally overzealous in his support of the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 20. What were their motivating factors? This remains a matter of everyone’s conjecture!

Mr President, it is time for you to demonstrate your resoluteness and return this Bill to Parliament for amendment. We remind you that you have wisely done so before to safeguard Press freedom. A compelling case has been made to demonstrate that this Bill threatens to undermine a fundamental role of the media at its core.

Firstly, Mr President, the clauses in the Bill aimed at control of media fail in any critical test to serve public interest. The provision that seeks to control media content is a disaster in the making, as regulators could apply it to determine and dictate editorial content.

Concerns about and regulation of unsuitable entertainment content or pornographic material can be appropriately dealt with through Media Council of Kenya regulations.
The prohibition of cross-media ownership is against a technological convergence that allows optimisation of synergies across media. Worse still, a provision that allows the ministers of communication and security to conduct raids and paralyse broadcast equipment is inconsistent with a modern democratic society.

What is at stake
Secondly, no matter how wise the current holders of communication and security portfolios perceive themselves, the future remains outside their respective control and determination. Indeed, no one can determine the future.

Not even you, Mr President, can predict how future leaders will conduct themselves. Clearly, what is at stake here is the question of the freedom of the media and a national legacy for posterity, for today’s and tomorrow’s generations. Your wisdom and conscience, must not deny us, as a people, and the coming generation, the quest for free Press and media freedom.

It is this journey that has contributed to your self-actualisation as political leader, Mr President and to those many others who appear bent to forget, now that they are in positions of authority. We have termed them turncoats, an appropriate characterisation for those who have abandoned all principle.

Thirdly, Mr President, by returning the Bill to Parliament you will not be granting a favour to anyone, least of all the media. Your action must be informed by your own judgement and conscience.

Further, it will be a milestone decision executed in accordance with constitutional powers vested in your office, as President. It is with this foresight of our forefathers, who, as architects of our legislative process, empowered the presidency with veto power that now hold the key in media freedom. In separation of the powers of legislature and those of the executive, our constitution envisages a scenario where, a situation arises to safeguard public interest through returning legislation back to Parliament for refinement.

At the moment you hold this position of authority and trust with full vested powers, so exercise this huge responsibility with demonstrable gumption.

Finally, Mr President, with your Grand Coalition Government partners, you should review the matter of quorum in Parliament. The House must uphold its position in ensuring effective representation. It does not make sense to have Standing Orders that put quorum at a mere 30 members and then even that is subject to the Speaker of the House being alerted on the status of the quorum. Indeed, this has created a situation where ten MPs could effect legislative changes at the Committee of the Whole House stage and it shall be law.

As a matter of reasonable practice, at least 25 per cent or 56 members out of the 222 MPs should ideally constitute a minimum quorum in the final legislative stage or a Committee of the Whole House.

In a surprising twist, many MPs and Cabinet ministers are at this late stage standing to be counted in support of media freedom. The Public Watchdog sees this as a welcome development as the magnitude of challenges media control portends is detrimental beyond imaginable proportions.

Mr President, act resolutely in defence of media freedom and keep at bay those seeking undermine your legacy for the benefit of short-term succession politics posturing.

It is all a matter of posterity and alignment with public interests. Revenge on the media won’t work, can’t work. Members of Parliament must pay all their taxes on allowances like every other Kenyan.

Mr President, please do not sign this Bill. This is a matter of great public interest!