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The truth about contentious clauses in Bill

OPINION
By DAVID OHITO | November 3rd 2013
       Editors Guild Vice Chairman David Ohito (left) addresses the Press on the controversial Media Bill last Friday

By DAVID OHITO

[email protected]

 

Today, we flag out some of the contentious clauses in the controversial Kenya Information and Communication Amendments Bill 2013, and explain why Kenyans of goodwill must stand up against the law.

The controversial Bill has removed the Complaints Commission from the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) and assigned those powers to the Communication Authority of Kenya (CAK), which is the rebranded body, that takes over the functions of Communications Commission of Kenya.

Under the proposed Multimedia Tribunal, the best practice model of co-regulation has been dealt a big blow. While issues of content, ethics and professional standards would be enforced under MCK the functions of licensing, frequency spectrum and allocation, courier and postal licences would be performed by CAK.

Strangely, the new Bill does not explain how postal, courier services and telecommunication personnel would regulate the media at the tribunal level. In short, what would a telecom expert say or know about professional journalism practice?

The Multimedia Tribunal is an equivalent of an appeals court because its decisions are final.

How can it be an appeals court yet there are no lower cases it has listened to before?

The fines imposed by the tribunal are too high and unsustainable. It does not matter whether it is a giant media House like the Nation Media Group, Standard Group, Royal Media Services, Radio Africa Group, Capital Group or the State owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.

Going by the rate of frequent demand letters from lawyers sent to media houses it means an average of Sh100 million each month or within each quota. Going by publicly results of listed companies it means a recipe for disaster and closure of these media enterprises and job loses.

The emerging County focused radio stations will literally shut operations because none can survive a fine of Sh20 million. Insurance cost for media personnel will go up triple fold. The worst hit will be correspondents and lower cadre journalists whose remuneration is less than Sh10,000 a month.

It means they will work for 100 months to save one million just in case they are fined.

The regulations will mean the media now loses its watchdog role against corruption and we cannot hold leaders accountable for their actions.

The right of Kenyans to know how their taxes are spent, how government will release information for them to access and freedom of expression will be greatly impeded as enshrined in the Constitution.

It is very easy for the tribunal to ban media from covering opposition parties on claims that they are spreading propaganda and hate speech.

That will spell the death of democracy Kenyans fought for ages.

There are ways of deregistering errant members of a profession through clear-cut processes.

By pegging local content at 45 per cent and advertising revenue at the same level we must ask how much investments has the same Parliament and Government allocated to local film industry to spur the generation of such content?

The media is going regional and global why would we deny advertisers a chance to bring into this market the much needed forex and investments in terms of advertisement.

How will we police international digital media platforms like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube and Twitter?

With local content pegged at 45 per cent it means for the poor Kenyans who cannot afford satellite and cable TV subscription like DSTV and ZUKU they will be starved of information through local free to air channels while the families of the elite enjoy robust plurality through broadband, internet, and paid up channels. This is simply discrimination.

It is for the above reasons that we ask Parliament not to forward the Bill to President Kenyatta for assent. But should the National Assembly go ahead and deliver it to the President we urge him to reject it and return it to the House with amendments for consideration.

The media also asks Kenyans of goodwill to send a petition to the president requesting him not to sign the Bill into law.

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