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Journalists take to the streets to oppose draconian media bill

By RAWLINGS OTIENO and LONAH KIBET | Updated Tue, December 3rd 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3
Journalists staged protests along the streets of Nairobi Tuesday in disproval of some clauses in the Media Bill. [PHOTO: STANDARD]

By RAWLINGS OTIENO and LONAH KIBET

NAIROBI, KENYA: It was not business as usual in media houses as journalists across all media houses took to the streets in a peaceful demonstration to petition parliament not to pass the media bill in its current form.

Editors, hundreds of journalists staged protest along the streets of Nairobi Tuesday to protest against some clauses in the Media Bill retained by President Uhuru Kenyatta in his memorandum back to Parliament.

With their tools of trade, they walked through the streets chanting anti-Uhuru slogans and gagging of the press freedom.

They cello-taped their tools of trade to symbolize gagging and wants the lawmakers not to pass the bill, but instead amend the punitive clause.

Mombasa Senator Omar Hassan while flagging off the demo outside Nation Media Centre headquarters yesterday and supporting the move said the media needed their own independent instrument of self-regulation.

“The Media Council needs to be strengthened to carry out this task,” Omar said.

He added that the Bill requires the input of the senate.

Editor’s Guild vice chair David Ohito said that the bill in its current form is full of flows and gaps that need to be rectified for the media fraternity to continue playing its watchdog role.

“We are not happy and satisfied with the way the bill is. It is us who will suffer if it is passed as it is,” said Ohito. 

He called on the Members of Parliament (MPs) to support media in being free and independent in their reporting.

“We will profile those who will stand by us and those who will be against us. They should not take us back to the past dark days of repression against free media,”

Ohito said the demonstration was the first of many avenues they would explore asserting that they will fight back viciously “until the last journalist standing goes down”.

A petition signed by Ohito and Kenya Correspondents Association William Oloo Janak was submitted to the President’s office and parliament during the demo showing that it had not adequately addressed the fears and concerns of media stakeholders and journalists.

It indicated that the Bill undermines the provision of the constitution in Article 34 (5) in relation to the establishment of an independent body to manage media regulation.

It further adds that journalists are concerned with the establishment of the Communication and Multi Media Tribunal which has powers to impose huge penalties.

 

“The penalty should not be more than 100,000, the proposed sh500, 000 penalty targeting journalists is unrealistic. Out of the 5,000 journalists in the country not more than 100 can afford the penalty and this will have the effect of intimidating journalists, thereby undermining media freedom,” said Ohito.

 

The petition also showed that the provision of the levy fine of sh20 million on media houses will also have the effect of forcing many to close down as there will be many litigants.

 

Standard journalist Geoffrey Mosoku added: “As professional journalists, we are not opposed to any form of regulation but we are telling parliament and the President that we have to live to the reality of the new constitution which provides safeguards for non-interference by the state on the running of media affairs.”

 

On his part, another Standard journalist, Ally Jamah wondered if President Uhuru has good intentions towards media freedom when he failed to recommend appropriate changes to the KICA Bill when he had the chance to do so.

 

Investigative journalists whose work requires them to expose crimes and corruption in the country could not hide their disappointment saying it would kill their field.

 

Standard’s and KTN’s senior investigative reporters Cyrus Ombati and Dennis Onsaringo are worried that if the bill is passed to law it will be almost impossible to do any piece that could offend a certain party or person.

 

“The stakes will be too high and you would rather to play it safe than risk being fined. Sh500, 000 is too hefty,” said Ombati.

 

“Our line of work requires us to do secret filming which the Bill forbids. If it becomes law it will definitely stall the work of journalists,” said Onsaringo.

 

He added that the tribunal will not be fair to the journalists because they do not understand how media houses operate.

 

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