Saturday, January 3, 2009



January 2 2009

President Kibaki has given the Kenyan media industry a New Years’ kick in the teeth with his assent to the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008.

In an unusual departure from the norm, the President signalled his assent to the Bill with a lengthy explanatory statement carried as a paid advertisement in the newspapers on Saturday.

This in itself is an indication that he is aware that his decision needs a lot of explanation.

The Kenya media have vigorously voiced their objection to sections of the Bill that are dangerous to their freedom.

Various presentations have outlined in great detail the specific clauses that can be used to interfere with the development and operations of vibrant, independent media that stood firm against one-party tyranny.

Unfortunately, the statement released yesterday by the president largely skirted the issues raised.

The statement makes a reference to the fact that Section 88 — that would allow the minister for Internal Security to invade media houses and seize or destroy equipment — is part of the old Communications Act and therefore not new at all.

Exactly, and that is why we hold that it should have been deleted with the new amendments, or revised so that the minister cannot misuse such frightening powers under the imagined threat to public order, as witnessed with the raid on the Standard Group or the illegal ban on live broadcasts.

Other than Section 88, the president does not make reference to a single of the numerous other offensive clauses highlighted in various memoranda.

This is particularly with regard to the clauses that give the minister for Information and Communications unchecked power to interfere with the editorial independence of the broadcast houses.

Matters that should have been best left to an independent regulatory authority, such as the statutory Media Council of Kenya, have also been brought under the purview of the minister.

The Bill also gives the minister full control of the Communications Commission of Kenya, which is thus subject to political directives in its regulatory responsibilities over the broadcast media.

Nothing is more dangerous to a free and independent press than legislation specifically created to provide for political control.
This is what the offensive sections in the Bill are designed for in regard to broadcasting.

While avoiding the pertinent issues raised by the media, the statement goes to great lengths to laud the positive aspects of the Bill for the wider communications industry.

This amounts to evading the issue, for the media have never at any stage quarrelled with those provisions.

All it asked for was that sections on broadcasting which are offensive to the spirit of free media be looked at afresh.

The Kenya media have been united against the offensive clauses, and they must not let up even if they have been passed into law.