Friday, January 9, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Atlanta, Georgia
January 9, 2009

I have been following the saga of the media law in Kenya with a lot of interest. I have seen politicians and media owners on the public arena trying to outdo one another; competing for the diminishing moral high ground. The blame game has been deafening and annoying to say the least. And the situation has been made muddier by the indecisiveness or lack of proper counsel at the highest office in the land in dealing with the controversy.

Yes, it once more confirmed that it is only in Kenya where Parliament can pass a bill, give it to the President, who in turn signs it into law and get the government spokesman to support the decision through street pamphlets. It is again in Kenya where one petition can be handed to the President by his Prime Minister on behalf of the media and gets rejected. However, if the same petition gets to the president via some other means, the President gladly orders the Attorney General to review the law he has just signed!

The truth is; President Kibaki was right to sign the damn bill into law because the circus had gotten out of control.

Kenyans will remember that the same bill was passed in the 9th Parliament with a good number of the present cabinet ministers and MPs in that same parliament. Journalists protested loudly on the streets with the full backing of the then opposition MPs and the Civil Society organizations. For that reason, President Kibaki refused to sign that same bill into law. It was sent back for redrafting or amendments; whatever that means. The President’s action then, as now, was to avoid a political backlash for his party.

A number of the current fresh MPs were then either in the civil society and were very active in supporting the amendments. However, when they arrived in the same august house a year later, they saw nothing wrong in letting their 25 colleagues push the bill through.

As much as we would like to blame President Kibaki who only chairs cabinet meetings but does not sit in Parliament and neither sits in the House Business Committee, the real culprits against the media in this country must be the media owners themselves, the Cabinet, the House Business Committee that is chaired by Vice President Kalonzo and Parliament where MPs reign supreme.

If Kibaki tabled the draft bill before his cabinet and no cabinet minister raised the alarm; it was an indication to him that his coalition government was in agreement.

From that stage, the bill went to the House Business Committee where the Chairman of the Committee on Media and Communications in consultation with the Leader of Government Business and his team must have given the bill clearance for debate in Parliament.

Once in the Order Paper, Kenyan MPs had the best opportunity to shoot the bill down or amend repugnant clauses therein in its first, second or third reading. They never did.

Looking at the amount of lobbying mounted by Media Owners and the Media Council after Kibaki signed the bill into law; one wonders why such high level activity was not carried out before the bill went to Parliament. Other than meeting Poghisio the Information minister and his staff from time to time; did the MOA and MC meet the Prime Minister, Vice President and the Speaker of the National Assembly? Or was the lobbying done at the level of hecklers in Parliament who carry no weight in the House? Remember, even Kibaki and Raila have to lobby MPs to make sure they pass the bills the two coalition principals badly need!

Those MPs now shouting loudest about the bad law were probably absent from the House drinking somewhere, chasing after their businesses or constituency allowances. They never saw the importance, like they always do, of being in the house to pass good laws for this country. Yet this is the sole reason we elected them to Parliament.

Let us face it; politicians, especially the current MPs have once again hoodwinked and derailed the media big time. I have this feeling that there is a strategy genius sitting somewhere in the Office of the President or in Parliament advising the government on how to divert media attention from their legitimate pursuits.

Just think about it; just before President Kibaki signed the bill into law, Kenya media’s headlines were awash with MPs salaries, the Waki report, the ECK saga, Mau Forest and political upheavals in the PNU coalition and ODM. At that time, the focus was on Ruto, Karua and Raila, taxation of MPs and other constitutional office holders for one reason or another. As the campaign against MPs gained momentum, as Kibaki was heckled on Jamhuri Day, shouts of njaa, njaa were heard at the ODM rally in Kibera. Yes, public pressure was getting out of control prompting James Orengo to even think of a peasant uprising against the state.

This was when the genius at the State House struck. And the guy understands how the media operates. He knows that the media as a group has the hunting dog mentality. They hunt as a group. They chase one animal for the kill at a time.

To ease pressure on government, he advised the President to divert media attention to something closer to their hearts. He told him to sign the bill into law and that would scare them stiff, stop every campaign about MPs taxation, poverty, hunger, fuel shortages, corruption in the judiciary and the ECK- Tribunal debates. And the media fell into the trap. They abandoned everything and started fighting for their own survival!

Of late I have seen big names in the media that were used by political parties as frontline campaigners for various parties in the last elections licking their wounds. For all that it was worth; they fought tooth and nail to reelect the ogre that mauled them in the last five years. They ate the ogre’s cash and were promised more hand-outs as soon as victory was achieved. However, instead of joy and happiness till death do us part, it has been pain and gnashing of teeth for the big guns of the Fourth Estate.

Have we learnt anything from this painful experience? Is the revision of the bill good enough to put a smile on our faces? How much can we trust the President’s word this time round? How much can we trust our political leadership? Can the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs stand up and be counted this time round?

Yes, obscenity in the media industry, especially on steamy sex shows on TV and radio must be obliterated from our airwaves. Every civilized society cannot accept what we in Kenya are fed with day and night. Even in the most liberal United States, broadcast stations were barred from playing Millie Jackson’s lurid songs as early as the 1970s. That ban has since covered more obnoxious artists and is in force to this day! Today in America the “F …” word cannot be uttered on a free to air broadcast station unless it is an adult pay channel. Phrases like “shit man”, “I’m fucked up” and “stupid idiot” are considered obscene and cannot be uttered in front of children.

Yet in Kenya, programmes like “Basted” which are basically raw sex episodes on our national radios are considered hip!

It is time Kenyans reclaimed their sanity from some reckless and immoral media owners and personalities. Yes, press freedom is no license to feed us with obscenity and explicit sex in our homes. That freedom must be both ways and needs to protect us too, otherwise we will end up with another dictator; media dictatorship!