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Lobby group opposes planned changes to Media law

OPINION
By Oloo Janak | December 8th 2021
Oloo Janak the chairman of the Kenya Correspondents Association addressing journalists during World Press Freedom Day. [File, Standard]

Our attention at Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) has been drawn to reported initiatives to amend the Media Act 2013. At the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) convention in Naivasha this week, the MCK chairman Mr Maina Muiruri was reported to have said that the proposed amendments are "good for the media industry".

We are surprised that he should say that when the purported proposals have not been canvassed by stakeholders and consensus reached.

We are informed the proposals are before the Parliamentary Committee on ICT/Communications and the Chair, Kisang has been reported as leading the process, fairly enthusiastically. Of course, Parliament has just gone into recess.

To the best of our recollection at KCA, no proposals have been tabled before the media stakeholders to debate or add on before they are/were taken to the National Assembly.

There were certain proposals that were presented to the BBI Task Force but this was not necessarily a consensus document and the BBI ship has since hit the rocks.

In 2019, there was a meeting in Naivasha that reportedly discussed the possibility of amending the Media Act. It was convened by the Media Council and when I raised the issue of the exclusion of KCA and, possibly some other stakeholders, a staff of the MCK responded on a social media platform by saying I was being "alarmist". 

The amendment of the Media Act 2007 to transit to the Media Act 2013 to align it to the Constitution 2010 and safeguard the independence of the MCK and the press was a protracted and painstaking process.

For those who will remember, we had many sessions with the then Jamleck Kamau-led Committee, and other agencies. We organised countrywide demonstrations in December 2013 to protest draconian provisions that we felt could constrain press freedom.

We petitioned the president not to assent to the Media Bill 2013 and the KICA Bill 2013 into laws and the president returned a memorandum to the National Assembly which led to the change of a few of the offending provisions but unfortunately the rest sailed through the National Assembly without going through the Senate (Article 34 of the Constitution talks of Parliament - not National Assembly with regard to press freedom).

In January 2014, KCA and KEG (KUJ was shortly thereafter, enjoined) went to court over the two laws and obtained, essentially what was an injunction that stopped the then ICT CS, Dr Fred Matiang’i from proceeding to implement the two laws, including setting up a panel (which was set up irregularly in terms of procedure and composition of stakeholder representation). 

The MCK filed a Judicial Review case and three media owners, Nation Media Group, Standard Group, and Royal Media Services also filed a separate case. The three cases were consolidated by Justice Mumbi Ngugi.

We were in court before a three-judge bench from January 2014 to May 2016 during which time, the MCK had no board. The court ruling pointed at what should have been amended in the Media Act so that it does not offend the constitution and constrain press freedom.

We at KCA, and some of the media stakeholders, have urged, since the court ruling, that the industry undertakes a transparent and participatory initiative at amending the Media Act and other media laws that have been identified to be in contradiction to the spirit and letter of the constitution but there has been little enthusiasm to do so, and the efforts that have been attempted have been either opaque or exclusionary.

We at KCA are alarmed by the reported initiative to amend the Media Act quietly and in our opinion, suspiciously. We wish to ask and get clarification on who has initiated the process to amend the Act, what specific proposals have been made, and why the industry has not robustly been involved.

We urge stakeholders, at individual institutional levels not to fall into any temptation or conspiracy in a process so profound as the change of media laws. This direction must be avoided as it has the potential to drag the industry into controversy, bring disunity and disharmony, and which may lead to protracted legal action again, and in an election year.

Reports of entrenched and self-serving interests and the possibility of advancing state zeal to control the media sector, through the amendment process (the interests appear to be both in the media industry and within parliament) are very unsettling and should worry us.

Our position at KCA is that, like in 2011-2013, the media industry and allied support groups must take a common position on this process and ensure open consultations, and insist on public participation. Again, we must be alive to the dangers of initiating amendments to media laws in an election year because the state normally takes advantage of that to bring in provisions that are meant to undermine press freedom

We at KCA look forward to any urgent response and clarification from any stakeholder group that may be a promoter or privy to this process, to inform our way forward. We will certainly not accept or participate in a flawed process.

William Oloo Janak is the Chairman of the Kenya Correspondents Association.

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