20 May 2009

Triumph for journalists as government agrees to amend media law

Kenyan journalists protested in Nairobi last year against the Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008
Kenyan journalists protested in Nairobi last year against the Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008
Daily Nation

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Following a concerted campaign, the Kenyan government has published amendments to the Communications Act, which will delete a controversial clause that allows the government to raid broadcasting stations, report the Africa Free Media Foundation, the Media Institute and local news reports.

The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Law 2008, which President Mwai Kibaki signed into law in January 2009, enables the state to raid broadcasting houses and destroy or confiscate equipment in the name of "public safety."

The Statute (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill contains propositions to delete the disputed section. According to news reports, although the bill was published on 9 May, the move has to await prioritisation in Parliament by the house business committee - a process that can take up to a year depending on political will.

The bill follows negotiations chaired by the Prime Minister between the Information and Communications Ministry and the media industry, represented by officials of the Kenya Union of Journalists, the Kenya Editors' Guild and the Media Owners Association. The amendments were agreed upon between the media and the government as interim measures pending a further and more elaborate review of the Communications Act and the Media Act.

Dozens of protesters and journalists were arrested last December during a demonstration against the Communications Bill, which also provides for heavy fines and prison sentences for press offences. Twenty-eight IFEX members, led by the Media Institute, had signed a letter to Kibaki urging him not to sign it into law.

The amendments will also get rid of provisions granting the government power to control content on TV and radio. The task will now fall under a new Broadcast Content Advisory Council, which will include the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and six other members to be appointed by the information minister.

David Makali of the Media Institute and Kenya Editors' Guild welcomed the move, terming it a compromise. "Though not satisfactory, it offers sufficient checks in the present circumstances. We only hope that persons appointed to the council shall be competent and that the appointments shall be done in consultation with the industry players," Makali told reporters.

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