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Outrage greets draconian Bill

By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU | Nov 2nd 2013 | 5 min read
                     Raila Odinga


[email protected]


The draconian amendments to the Kenya Information and Communication Bill, 2013 were yesterday met with public outrage as political leaders, members of clergy, professionals and activists called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to reject the draft law.

There was unanimity in the voices that the Bill was a threat to free speech and democracy as enshrined in the Constitution.

The Kenya Editors Guild and a section of civil society vowed to move to court if Kenyatta assents to the Bill. The editors’ lobby threatened to sanction mass protests if the Bill becomes law (see separate story).

On Thursday, MPs passed the contentious Bill, which creates a powerful tribunal, the Communications and Multimedia Appeals tribunal, which is government appointed and which will have sweeping powers. This tribunal would have immense powers to impose fines of up to Sh20 million on media houses, and Sh1 million to individual journalists, for what it perceives as journalistic misconduct.

This powerful tribunal, to be appointed by the Minister incharge of information would also have powers to attach property of journalists and media houses, suspend or de-register journalists from practice.

 Political leaders castigated the National Assembly for passing the Bill, with former PM Raila Odinga saying the proposed law represents a worsening of the climate of censorship, intimidation of journalists and attempts by the State to control the press.

Civil liberties

Raila said this move from the Government has been taking shape slowly. “The Bill not only violates the Constitution but also represents a rapid relapse in protection of civil liberties.  It is particularly unfortunate coming so soon after recent attempts by the government to arrest journalists for exposing their version of what transpired at the Westgate (mall) during the attack by terrorists,” Raila said.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi also told off the MPs for approving a Bill that stifles media freedom. In a statement to newsrooms, Mudavadi said the amendments in the Bill were “discriminative, punitive and criminalise an economic sector and profession”.

“It must not be forgotten that media is an investment even as it serves a social good in purveying information and enables citizens to engage. Government exists to provide an enabling environment, but the action of the National Assembly contradicts this principle by purporting to punish the media,” said Mudavadi.

“The Constitution does not envisage situations where the National Assembly turns tables and abrogates the people’s rights and freedoms,” added Mudavadi, who is also the party leader of UDF. The clergy also opposed the Bill, with Eldoret Catholic Diocese Bishop saying that there was no justification for the government trying to muzzle the media. “The media has done nothing that calls for extra regulation, it has not conveyed information posing threats to security or incited the public and I don’t understand the motive of the legislators to advocate for regulation,” he said.

Crucial right

Korir said every citizen in a democratic State like Kenya had a fundamental right to access information. “There is no need for anyone to bar the media from informing the public, people need to know the performance of their leaders and the ills perpetrated by some leaders so as to make informed decisions on proper governance,” he added.

Senators James Orengo (Siaya) and Otieno Kajwang’ (Homa-Bay) said the Bill was unconstitutional because the Senate Speaker Ekwee Ethuro did not give his concurrence before it was legislated upon. They said the Bill was part of efforts being made to erode the freedom of speech and expression.

“If the media does not come out loudly and vigilantly, it is only a matter of time before we get to the bad dark days…we don’t want to remember those days. We don’t want to go back there,” said Orengo at the news conference held at the Senate Media Centre inside the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi.

Orengo added that President Kenyatta should not sign the Bill into law because it contravened the Bill of Rights as set out in the Constitution.

“If the President signs the Bill, he will contravene the oath that he took to protect the Constitution,” said Orengo, as he pointed out that there are sufficient signs that show “quite clearly that the Jubilee government will not support media freedom”.

Second opinion

Kajwang added that the time had now come for the Senate to audit all the laws that come from the National Assembly, given that MPs had failed to pass a law that strictly adheres to the Constitution. “I am ashamed that such a Bill can be approved by the National Assembly. I am now persuaded that we must change the Constitution to give the Senate a second opinion on all Bills emanating from the Lower House,” said Kajwang’. The Homa Bay Senator added: “If you allow this Bill to become law, the minister will choose a tribunal that will regulate the media. You will be seeking permission before you release information. There will be no more media. You will become a public relations department of the State, you must stop this,” said Kajwang’.

Ahmednassir Abdullahi, a commissioner with the Judicial Service Commission and a publisher of Nairobi Law Monthly, vowed to move  to court to “challenge the constitutionality” of the Bill if President Kenyatta signs it into law. Similarly, Gitobu Imanyara, who was the founding editor of the Nairobi Law Monthly, was also up in arms over the proposals that MPs put in the Bill.

“Cry my beloved country as we fast slide into the league of failed states with the latest move to suppress freedom of the press. What a shame!” Imanyara said on his Twitter account. Executive Director of the International Centre for Policy and Conflict, Ndung’u Wainaina, added that while the rest of the world was moving towards free media, the National Assembly of Kenya was busy trying to stifle the march towards an open society. “A free, secure and independent media is one of the pillars of human rights, security and development. Attacks on freedom of the press are attacks against international law, against humanity, against freedom itself, and against everything that human value stands for,” said Wainaina.

The ICPC boss dismissed the proposed Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal as an unwanted appendage to the government bureaucracy, which will not only unnecessarily gobble up State resources, but also claw back on the reforms made in the past two decades to enshrine a free media.

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Editorial Cartoon 02.11.2013
Editorial Cartoon 02.11.2013
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