By Jerry Okungu
November 6, 2013
President Uhuru says he won’t sign the controversial Media Bill until all the contentious issues are resolved.
Deputy President William Ruto has also voiced his opposition to the Media Bill.
Not left behind are the senators that want the bill returned to the House so that they can scrutinize it.
However, voices from the National Assembly are at variance with these suggestions. The chairman of the Committee that drafted the bill is adamant that the bill is just and democratic and that there is nothing draconian about it and that the president should sign it into law.
In this stand he seems to get the backing of the Speaker of the National Assembly who says that the horse has left the stable and the bill is already in the conveyor belt headed to the president. He seemed to be shutting the door to any further consultations with aggrieved stake holders.
The media fraternity is up in arms for the following reasons:
It would appear that the format earlier jointly endorsed by all parties has either been ignored or tampered with on the floor of parliament.
The bill in its present form has rendered the current Media Council impotent and irrelevant.
The new body to be known as the Media and Communications Authority will set up a tribunal to regulate the media. Under this set up, any journalist that violates the operational rules will be subject to a fine of not more than Ksh. 1million shillings while the media house that transgresses the new regulations will attract a fine Ksh 20 million.
The Authority has also put a caveat on the amount of foreign content to be aired on local stations. They have sealed it at 55% while 45% of content including advertising must be locally produced.
Technically the bill takes away self regulation that the media has enjoyed for some time.
The draconian Media Bill has its origin in the running battles that the media has had with the National Assembly over the salary remuneration of MPs. Whereas the media rightly vilified the political class’ greed in the midst of abject poverty, the MPs finally had their way with the Chairman of The Salaries Review Commission and got their Ksh 1 million per month package.
This controversy made enraged lawmakers to promise the media punitive legislation in the future; a process that would eventually replace self regulation with media control by the government.
As it is, membership of both the Media and Communications Authority and the Tribunal will be appointees of various arms of government. The media fraternity will have no direct influence on the matter.
Having said that, it is important to put the relation between media and political
Class in perspective. This relationship can be compared to the friendship between the chicken and the fox. The chicken never really knows when the fox will turn around and snap its neck.
For decades the media has played very dirty roles in exchange for cash. Politicians have used them to finish their rivals from time to time.
During elections, the media has behaved very badly. The same journalists have rushed to pack media campaign offices all in the name of wind falls from politicians. Different political parties hire their services to further their political agenda. They have failed to remain nonpartisan.
For the last two decades when the media was liberalized, we have had a mushrooming of broadcast media especially radio stations. We have all sorts of media houses broadcasting in English, Kiswahili and leading local languages.
This has generated stiff competition resulting in a lot of unprofessionalism.
In order to attract audiences, some media houses have resorted to obscenity where sex becomes the staple food that adults and children are subjected to day in day out. Yet the current Media Council that is supposed to self regulate has never bothered to reign on these rogue broadcasters all in the name of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. If the Media Council had chosen to be proactive rather than wait for transgressions to be taken to them in their offices, it would not have come to this.
Now that the horse has bolted from the stable, what next for the Media?
They must pray that president Uhuru does not sign it into law and even though, Uhuru must return the bill to the same parliament with his own memo explaining why he has rejected the bill.
Under the circumstances, parliament will look at it afresh. If they concur with the president then they will amend the offending clauses. However, if MPs vote to retain the bill in its current form and garner a two thirds majority then it becomes law without the signature of the president.
As things stand, it will need a lot of lobbying by the media to have the bill amended. The starting point should be the Senate Speaker who seems sympathetic to their cause.