Attempts to gag media in Kenya on the rise

This boy shed tears yesterday to be allowed to use KTN’s camera during a public function. The boy, who said he admired the work of journalists, wiped his tears when he was allowed to see through a journalist’s lens. (PHOTO: DENISH OCHIENG/STANDARD)

The media have had their fair share of challenges in the last five years due to several attempts to curtail the freedom of journalists.

The National Assembly has passed laws that have targeted the media with retrogressive clauses. In fact, the vibrant Kenya media industry owes its survival to courts and strong lobbies, media owners and journalists who have consistently underscored the importance of freedom of media as enshrined in Article 34 of the Constitution.

Article 34 of the Constitution enshrines Freedom of the Media. It guarantees freedom and independence of electronic, print and all other types of media.

Article 34 (3) says broadcasting and other electronic media have freedom of establishment subject only to licensing procedures.

Article 35 guarantees access to information. It guarantees how information held by State should be accessed and  published. The requisite acts of Parliament are yet to be enacted.

However, the National Assembly went on to pass the Media Act, 2013 and Kenya Information, Communication (amendment) Act, 2013 (KICA) and Security Laws (amendment) 2014 which President Uhuru Kenyatta promptly signed into law.

The Kenya Editors Guild, Kenya Union of Journalists, Kenya Correspondents Association and others promptly challenged the Media Act and KICA before the Constitutional Court which suspended the contentious sections.

The Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, perhaps the most contentious in the life of the 11th Parliament, had proposed that, among others, that police must approve publication or broadcasting of information relating to investigations on terrorism.

"My view is that the bill was wrong and completely misconceived in dealing with insecurity," says lawyer Mbugua Mureithi.

On the other hand, the Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Bill which was signed into law by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013 had imposed tough penalties on journalists and expanded offences for which they could be punished.

Despite these failed attempts, efforts are still being made to muzzle the Press. The latest one is in the form of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill.

The bill, which was on the floor of the House yesterday has been condemned as one of the most brazen attempts to limit the freedom of expression by journalists and other practitioners.

It says, "A person shall not broadcast, televise or other transmissions by electronic means the proceedings of the House or a committee of Parliament or any other part of those proceedings by order or under the authority of the relevant speaker or chairperson of a committee of Parliament and in accordance with the standing orders and the conditions and directions determined by the Speaker."

The mover of the bill, Eldas MP Adan Keynan has, however, promised to introduce amendments during its third reading. But until the promised amendments see the light of day, the threat still hangs around the neck of journalists.

"We will ensure the provisions are removed when the bill comes for third reading," National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale has also assured.

Henry Maina, the Director of Article 19 Kenya, however, notes that journalists are under attack despite the laws protecting the freedom of expression.

Maina says there are increasing attacks on journalists, including the murder of Eldoret-based editor John Kituyi.

"Several journalists from some mainstream media houses have been attacked by news sources and police without action to protect media houses."

He added, "Contestations of laws targeting media shows the scope of threats but courts have safeguarded constitutional principle."

And while progress has been made on the digital migration implementation with more actors coming on board following the implementation of the best practice, a good number of Kenyans, mostly the poor, still cannot access television following the switch-off of analogue broadcast signals.

However, Prof Levy Obonyo of Daystar University says digital migration has taken television to marginalised parts of Kenya. "Many can now access through digital decoders," he said.