Kenya passes contentious media bill

Rebecca Hawkes | 08-12-2013

Kenya has passed what has been termed its “draconian” Information and Communication Bill amid strong opposition from journalists who claim it is an affront to media freedom.

The Bill, passed into law with presidential amendments on 5 December, imposes a Sh20 million ($234,000) maximum fine on media houses which disobey the law. It also ensures the President and the Cabinet Secretary for Information and Communication the final say on appointments to the country’s new media regulatory bodies, the Communications Authority of Kenya and those who sit on the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal.

Legislators from the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy walked out of the National Assembly ahead of the vote.

“If we do not do this with deep thought, we will be setting a dangerous precedent. We will also be opening up the window for a future rogue president,” opposition MP Jakoyo Midiwo told parliament.

After the Bill was passed, David Ohito, vice chairman of the Kenya Editors’ Guild, said: “As journalists, this is a very sad and dark day for us. Freedom of media and freedom of expression has been effectively buried by the passage of this law. It is ironical that such repressive moves against the media are happening as Kenya celebrates 50 years of independence.”

“Despite concerted efforts, all efforts at dialogue have failed and the Bill has been passed incorporating the contentious proposals put forward by President Uhuru Kenyatta,” Ohito added.

The bill was passed in October 2013, but Kenyatta refused to sign it, instead sending it back to parliament with presidential changes. Individual fines for journalists for breaching the professional code of conduct have been cut from the maximum of Sh1 million to Sh 500,000 ($5,775) originally proposed, however these remain huge in a country where most journalists earn about $200 a month.

“Draconian provisions” were still contained in the amended bill, said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Act and the Media Council Act “will effectively silence critical reporting through a new government-controlled regulator and the threat of hefty fines,” added the US-based media watchdog.