Information, Communication and Technology Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i says there is still room for dialogue to ensure the emerging issues in the Media Bill are ironed out.
He said there was no cause for alarm over the Bill which now awaits the President’s assent into law after it was approved by the National Assembly on Thursday.
Matiang’i pledged to meet with Attorney General Githu Muigai and the chairman of the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution Charles Nyachae to look into grievances being raised in the Bill.
“The powers of the legislative arm of government are unfettered; you cannot control Parliament on how they deal with legislation,” he said. “Now that Parliament has passed the legislation, we need to ask if the room for dialogue is closed – I don’t think it is.”
“Freedom of the press is not under attack in Kenya,” added Matiang’i.
His sentiments came as media practitioners and rights activists castigated the passage of the Media Bill saying it would impede a free media and entrench judicial control of the press if adopted as law.
Media Owners Association Chairman Kiprono Kittony said the Bill as approved by the National Assembly has clawed back on the gains made by the media in Kenya which is considered a leader in the region.
“To create an authority that is government controlled to determine all matters of content and to impose draconian fines of up to Sh20 million for media houses and Sh1 million for journalists with a possibility of de-registration for life is an attempt to muzzle the media,” Kiprono said.
The Bill proposes the establishment of the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal to address media complaints as opposed to the current situation where grievances are addressed through the Media Council of Kenya.
A journalist found to have violated any information-related law will be liable to pay a fine of over Sh1 million with the affected media house paying Sh20 million. The tribunal will have the power to recommend the suspension or deregistration of a journalist involved in any violation.
Capital Group Managing Director Cyrus Kamau said the media should be allowed to practice self-regulation.
“We want to be responsible Kenyans but the moment the Secretary for Information has powers to appoint that tribunal it will never be free,” he stated.
“They are retrogressive, dictatorial and they take this country back to the political Stone Age. We negotiated with these MPs and they have shown singular bad faith. We will carry this battle to the next stage and fight every attempt to deny the media of this country freedom,” said Media Council of Kenya Chairman Joseph Odindo.
Lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi through his Nairobi Law Monthly publication has vowed to challenge the constitutionality of the law in court if President Uhuru Kenyatta signs it.
“Nairobi Law Monthly magazine gives notice that in the unlikely event that H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta assents to the media Bill it will challenge its constitutionality,” Abdullahi tweeted.
United Democratic Forum Leader Musalia Mudavadi urged the President to return the Bill back to Parliament for the contentious issues to be reviewed.
Mudavadi, through his Press Secretary Kibisu Kabatesi said provisions in the Bill were discriminative, punitive and an act that would criminalise an economic sector and profession.
“It must also not be forgotten that media is an investment even as it serves a social good in purveying information and enables citizens to engage,” said Mudavadi. “Governments exists to provide an enabling environment, but the action of the National Assembly contradicts this principle by purporting to punish the media,” he added.
The UDF leader said the Bill as it stands, abrogates the Human Rights Chapter and specifically violates articles on Equality and Freedom from Discrimination, Expression and Access to Information.
“The National Assembly must be reminded that its legislative authority is a delegated one derived from the people. The National Assembly resolves issues of concern to the people. The Constitution does not envisage situations where the National Assembly turns tables and abrogates the people’s rights and freedoms.” Mudavadi said in a statement.
Under the new law, local media houses will be required to air 45 percent of local programming daily and have 18 months to terminate advertising contracts from foreign firms to meet the prescribed quota.
Veteran journalist Joe Kadhi condemned the passage of the Bill, saying it is unconstitutional and urged journalists to challenge it in court.
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior and former Imenti Central legislator Gitobu Imanyara also said the attempts to fetter freedom of speech are unconscionable.
“Cry my beloved country as we fast slide to the league of failed states with the latest move to suppress freedom of the press. What a shame!” Imanyara said in a message posted on his official twitter handle.
Imanyara who founded the Nairobi Law Monthly in 1987 a publication which was not supportive of the then President Daniel arap Moi’s one party policy was arrested in 1990 after writing a special issue entitled “The Historic Debate: Law, Democracy, and Multi-Party Politics in Kenya’.
He had earlier been arrested and detained for ‘not registering the magazine.’
On his part, Kilonzo said on his twitter account: “The attempts to fetter freedom of speech are unconscionable. It is equivalent to tyranny of fear and trepidation.”
The Kenya Human Rights Commission has threatened to take mass action to protest the Kenya Information and Communications Bill.
Deputy Executive Director Davis Malombe said that the passage of the Bill is a forthright violation of the Constitution and they will take legal action if it is not recalled.
“The President gave the media a clear assurance that he will protect their independence, we hope he will be accountable and not sign that law” Malombe stated while referring to a pledge President Kenyatta gave when he hosted media editors to a historic breakfast at State House, Nairobi in July.