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Media freedom in Kenya to be reduced after MPs pass draconian law

Updated Thu, October 31st 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

Besides, MPs have taken control of the airwaves with the approval of controversial last-minute amendments to the Kenya Information and Communications (amendment) Bill, 2013.

They denied the Cabinet Secretary the power to pick members of the Communications Authority of Kenya, and instead said that was the domain of MPs. They said MPs will vet all nominees to the authority.

The lawmakers also want the government to decide what the public will see and when they will see it. They said half of what Kenyans will see in daytime will be local content.

“A broadcaster licensed to distribute Radio and TV programme services shall make sure that 45 per cent of programmes and advertisements broadcast on TV and radio on any given day comprise local content,” said Nicholas Gumbo (Rarieda).

The MP said that media houses will have 18 months to terminate advertising contracts from foreign firms to meet the prescribed quota. His colleagues agreed with him and approved the amendment. That will cripple the news business and affect what the public will get to see.

The chairman of the House Committee on Communication and Energy, Jamleck Kamau (Kigumo), backed the amendments and told his colleagues in the House that the amendments had been agreed by all the industry players.

The punitive fines will be imposed by a five-member tribunal strictly appointed by a team appointed by the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Information and Communication, Dr Fred Matiang’i. The tribunal will also have powers to de-register journalists.

On the face of it, the MPs argued that by creating the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal, they were trying to guarantee the independence of the body from the industry players.

But they have given the body the power to adjudicate on complaints by “any person” in stories carried in the newspapers, the conduct of journalists, and other matters that are likely to hinder the practice of journalism as hitherto practiced.

They gave the tribunal sweeping powers to “make any supplementary or ancillary orders or directions that it may consider necessary for carrying into effect orders or directives”.

Johnson Sakaja (nominated) moved the amendment on having a quota for local content: “  Once this quota is there, the media houses will invest so that at the end of the day, we make sure that we have quality in the production of local content.”

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