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It’s democracy, not media, that’s on trial

By By Kipkoech Tanui | November 29th 2013

 By Kipkoech Tanui

Browsing through blogs and other online platforms I sense bitterness with the Kenyan media regardless of the siege we are currently in. Luckily, there are also voices against the draconian clauses President Uhuru Kenyatta cunningly retained in the contentious media Bill he returned to Parliament on Wednesday.

There are those who would care less about the new regulations, including hefty fines and registrations or deregistration of journalists, but for different reasons. Some argue that in the countdown to the March 4 General Election, and thereafter, the media went to bed with the Jubilee government.

Unfaithful spouse

This bitter group argues that we failed the fidelity test of being a discerning, critical, and interrogative media, and so like any other unfaithful spouse, we should be kicked in the teeth.

This lot blames us for not asking the tough questions as we headed to elections when it was clear the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) wasn’t as prepared as it vainly claimed to be. In fact, they claim we weren’t even able to pinpoint the rampant theft and greasing of palms at IEBC corridors as its captains planned the election as you would exams in your former primary school.

Then there are the Members of Parliament, the brains behind the proposed laws, which, among other things, seek to give the Government the leash to tug journalists along, in the name of regulation and control. Some are anti-media because it reported their gluttonous push for higher salaries. And then there are those who are unhappy because of the number of wives some blogger said they have.  The bottom line is that they are unable to distinguish between mainstream media and the rogue lone-rangers who operate as ‘media owners’ in some hidden corners of the Internet, or through gutter publications.

I also gather from the Uhuru-Ruto teams that the duo hates being referred to as “crimes against humanity suspects” because of the ongoing ICC trials. I wonder if the country should ignore this fact, or how else journalists can refer to them when in it comes to the trial.

However, one should just hope it is not the reporting of this issue that has tempered their view of media, because surely these ladies and gentlemen will one day be out of power, and will miss the role a vibrant media plays in the defence of democracy. 

The point we are trying to make here is that personal, whimsical and selfish interests should not goad amendment to laws. That is not how laws are made; otherwise we would let MPs pass a motion to partition for themselves the land called Kenya! I can tell you of the countless times that we have been told that before any coin is stolen in the Government, the conspirators worry more about exposure by the media than the police.

We know that a lot worse could happen in this country; especially in the way these raucous politicians would want Kenyans and their resources treated, if the media was neutered.

Sometimes we must appreciate numbers don’t supercede reason, otherwise we should be asking prisoners to decide if we should uphold capital punishment via voting. In short, we must always remind the Jubilee-dominated Parliament that the majority can have their way but the minority must also have their say, as Kijana Wamalwa once told boisterous Kanu MPs in 1997.

“Even fools, savages and animals can claim superiority by numbers but it does not mean they are right,’’ was Wamalwa’s everlasting message to the cockerel party as it changed laws to punish the Opposition, forgetting that they would end up in opposite end of the House at some point in the future, and it certainly came to pass.

I have written countless times that, yes the media isn’t always right. Some members of the Fourth Estate, by virtue of being members of our rotten society, take bribes and seek favours from Government officials.

Others, and as an editor I can attest to this, write ‘project’ stories, or merely are mercenaries for hire. But I will ask you, why throw out the baby with the bath water? I will also swear they are quite few, and media houses have internal mechanisms to deal with them, so long us there is complaint and proof.

Lame duck

Aside from the fact that after all it is the same politicians who corrupt the crafty and pliant journalists, we already have the Media Council of Kenya, a statutory body set up by Parliament and made up of members of the media itself. If it were a lame duck, President Uhuru would not have appeared before it last year to press his complaint against The Star.

So what purpose would the proposed tribunal serve if not to stifle the media? There are hundreds of libel cases in court against media houses, and many Kenyans have been paid through court judgments, after being libeled.

Any journalist can tell you the greatest business risk, and for which media managers guard against everyday, are libel suits. Why then would Parliament — something Uhuru upheld — come up with the Communications and Multimedia Appeals tribunal?

Bad company

Alongside this, Uhuru upheld the fine for media houses at Sh20million, and individual fines for journalists pegged at Sh500, 000. But then in his wisdom, he allocated himself the role of appointing the members of the tribunal.

Now, my ‘unpopular’ decision not to take the offer for a 10-course breakfast meal with Uhuru and Ruto at State House after Jubilee’s victory has been vindicated.

I also, on reflection, think the President is keeping bad company through such characters as Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir, Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, and rogue Middle Eastern rulers and China’s Xi Jinping.  The point is this; hate or love the free media, Kenya would be worse off without it, and we would all be losers.

It is not the media on trial, but Kenya’s democracy, which we are now coating with paint borrowed from Jogoo’s days. 

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