Saturday, January 3, 2009




By Saturday Standard Team

President Kibaki has signed into law the controversial Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008, which the media and human rights groups say is draconian and retrogressive.

The Editors Guild immediately denounced the action, while the Media Owners Association was set to hold a crisis meeting last night.
"This is retrogressive. He has looked for an excuse to clamp on democracy. The President has completely evaded the issues we have raised as the media fraternity," said Mr Macharia Gaitho, chairman of the Editors Guild.

Gaitho said by assenting to the Bill, President Kibaki had proved he was not sensitive to the interests and wishes of the nation.
He said the President had had ignored the issues at stake as outlined in the memoranda presented to him by the guild and the association.

The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) expressed shock and disappointment. MCK chairman Wachira Waruru said the council will not relent in its fight for press freedom and independence.The Media Council will meet with other stakeholders to consider the disturbing development," said Waruru in a statement.

While justifying his move, the President said the concerns raised by the media were contained in a separate Act and he would not have addressed them by declining to assent to the Bill.
The Head of State said he had assented to the Bill because it was of great benefit to the country. He supported the regulation of electronic media, saying it would promote and safeguard "our culture, moral values and nationhood."

The President said he had noted Section 88 was not part of the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008, adding that it was in the Kenya Communications Act, 1998.
"By refusing to assent to this Bill, I will not have addressed this concern of the media. Accordingly, I urge the stakeholders to address this issue separately," he said in a statement issued from State House, Mombasa, where he is on holiday.

He acknowledged he had received numerous appeals from stakeholders in the media industry urging him not to assent to the Bill.

The President said he had carefully considered their concerns on Section 88 of the Kenya Communications Act, which gives the Government power to restrict media operations during a state of emergency.
He said by assenting to the Bill he had considered the fact that there is wide consensus among the stakeholders that the Kenya Communications Amendment Bill addresses issues of critical importance to the country’s economic development.

The President cited the regulation of electronic transactions such as the M-Pesa, which has employed more than 12,000 Kenyans within one year of its operations, as one of the critical issues addressed by the Bill and where there was consensus.

The other is the Business Processing and Outsourcing (BPO) sub sector, which has created more than 5,000 jobs. He said the enactment of the new law would enhance investor confidence and lead to more jobs and economic benefits, especially for the youth.

He said regulation of the electronic transactions creates room for pursuit of the ideals of Vision 2030. The President said his Government remained committed to Press Freedom and democracy and assured the media and the public that it would not roll back on the gains made.

He told the media to recognise that freedom comes with responsibility.
"While press freedom is a cardinal pillar of democracy, this is a right that carries with it special duties and responsibilities. Press freedom must therefore be counterbalanced with other freedoms and must at all times take into account the overriding interest and the safety of Kenyans," said the President.

Cabinet ministers James Orengo and Musalia Mudavadi said they were disappointed by the move.

Sources close to Prime Minister Raila Odinga said he had hoped a scheduled meeting between Kibaki and media stakeholders early next week could have reached an agreement over contentious issues in the Act. Mudavadi told the media not to panic as the offending law could be repealed in the next session of Parliament.
"It is not the end of the road to the media fraternity. We have seen laws passed and processes to amend them instituted immediately," he said.

Orengo said by assenting to the Bill, Kibaki had stabbed Raila in the back. The PM had on several occasions assured the public the President would return the controversial Bill to Parliament. The Lands minister said he would ask ODM to show leadership by sponsoring a private Bill to repeal the offensive sections of the Act touching on broadcasting.

Medical Services Assistant Minister Danson Mungatana was among the most vocal supporters of the Bill in the House last month. The Garsen MP said the media needed to be checked on programming to bar "obscene" messages from being broadcast.

Mungatana accused the media of plotting to bring down Parliament and influence President Kibaki not to assent to the Bill. He had also asked Speaker Kenneth Marende to censure the Press over the coverage of the passing of the Bill.
"There is a serious campaign against this Parliament by the local media and internationally over the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill," Mungatana said.

Mwingi South MP David Musila argued the media had sweeping powers, which should be checked.

Dr Simiyu Eseli (Kimilili, Ford-Kenya) cautioned against Press censorship. "What shall we do with the media? As we try to reform the media, let us not try and gag them because they are also our mouthpiece," he said.