By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU
Members of Parliament are plotting to bring a fresh set of amendments to the Media Council Bill, 2013, that if approved would turn Kenya into a Police State.
In the fresh onslaught on free speech scheduled for debate next week, the lawmakers have given themselves the power to determine the members of the Media Council of Kenya, and have given the government-controlled council absolute powers to ban local and media houses that do not toe the line from doing business in Kenya.
They say the council will have the right to ban “any publication that contains any article, caricature, photograph, report, notes, writing, sound, music, statement” which is “in any manner prejudicial to or likely to be prejudicial to public order, morality, security or which is likely to alarm public opinion or which is likely to be contrary to any law or is otherwise prejudicial to or is likely to be prejudicial to public interest or national interest.”
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That’s a roundabout way of saying the council will crack down on any news outlet that is critical to the government of the day or the people in power.
If approved, then Kenyans will bid goodbye to the creative license of political cartoonists “Munenetoonz” “Maddo” “Gamz” and “Gado”; and investigative programmes such as “Jicho Pevu”, “Case Files” and “The Inside Story”.
If passed, Kenyans will not know when the people who are supposed to protect them take bribes or loot property. They will not know the extent of negligence in government, for instance, when a convicted terrorist obtains government documents including a Certificate of Good Conduct, at a time when the convict is in a US jail as The Standard on Sunday reported a week ago.
They will not know if the Auditor General says that a third of the budget cannot be accounted for; and also the country will not be told when an assistant chief – the authority of the presidency in the sub-location — is kidnapped.
In the amendments under the hand of Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau, who is the chairperson of the House Committee on Energy, Information and Communication, the MPs have also proposed a two-year maximum jail-term or a Sh10 million maximum fine for anyone who distributes, prints or even imports newspapers that are not licensed by the council.
There’s also a proposal to jail people found consuming unlicensed publications for a maximum of two months, or simply fine them a maximum of Sh10,000 or both.
But even with the permit, the council reserves the right to revoke or suspend it “at any time”.
If approved, the Bill will turn Kenya’s vibrant media industry into a dangerous loss-making industry, which will be incapable to keep tabs on the excesses of the people in power. It will also drown the public into a sea of ignorance about what their government is doing.
The MPs said they will have the ultimate say on who gets to sit in the Media Council even after the selection panel with a host of industry players — media owners, journalists, editors, correspondents, journalism scholars and lecturers, and the Ministry of Information and Communication — picks the best candidates.
The MPs have also opened a window for their political cronies in their respective political parties, plus former politicians, to sit in the Media Council, and therefore control what the public sees or hears about key figures in government.
“The committee is of the opinion that politicians should also be considered as professionals who can give leadership in any public body, commission or council,” read the