|Civil society members demonstrate outside Parliament yesterday against Public Benefits Organisation (Amendment Bill) and Kenya Information Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2013, which was passed by MPs recently. They said the laws will stifle NGOs and media. [PHOTO: MBUGUA KIBERA/STANDARD]|
By ALLY JAMAH
Stakeholders in the media industry have recommended at least 12 amendments to the controversial Media Council Bill that had sparked outcry from Kenyans and the media fraternity.
Representatives of media owners, editors and journalist unions proposed changes, including removing of clauses that threaten the independence of the Media Council, the professional body tasked with regulating the industry.
They opposed proposals to have the Cabinet Secretary (CS) choose members of the Council from names forwarded to him or her by a proposed interview panel. They insisted that the role of the CS should only be to gazette names submitted.
The stakeholders also sought changes to remove the role of the Cabinet Secretary in making, amending and implementing the professional code of conduct for media professionals, saying this function should be solely left to the independent Media Council.
“It is important to maintain the independence of the council from government interference in order to ensure that the institution functions effectively to the expectations of Kenyans,” said Ms Grace Munjuri of the Media Council.
Other changes sought include the inclusion of an independent complaints commission within the Media Council to resolve complaints against media houses and journalists. The current Bill had vested the dispute resolution function on the council itself. The stakeholders told members of the Parliamentary Committee on Energy and Communications to give the Media Council enhanced powers to set the standards relating to professional education and training of journalists to weed out quacks.
Mr David Ohito, the Kenya Editors Guild vice chairman, said the Bill must bear robust provisions to protect the interests of journalists. He insisted that only the Media Council — and not any other extraneous body — could enforce the code of conduct. The Kenya Information and Communication Amendment (KICA) Bill passed by MPs but not assented to by the President had proposed the formation of a tribunal to do the same.
Mr Ohito noted the consultations with MPs were a good sign but there was no reason to celebrate yet. He said media stakeholders must ensure the freedom of the media and journalists was not infringed upon.
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“We also urge the President to speedily return the KICA Bill back to Parliament to enable media stakeholders participate in its review. KICA remains a big threat to media freedom in Kenya,” he said.
The stakeholders were not allowed to discuss the KICA Bill yesterday, despite having many issues overlapping with the contents in the Media Council Bill. Mr Oloo Janak, the chairman of the Kenya Correspondents Association, called on MPs to put bring on board stakeholder suggestions. It would be useful for stakeholders to get a further chance to interrogate the incorporation of their suggestions in subsequent versions of the Bill, he added.