The passage by a handful of MPs of the Kenya Information & Communication Amendment Bill 2013 has caused shock waves in the country.
For Kenyans old enough to remember, this feels like the start of a return to the dark days of dictatorship when KANU was baba na mama. For the younger ‘digital’ generation who have no recollection of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation ruling the airwaves and bulletins riddled with Mtukufu Rais, the hullabaloo may seem to be overkill or even a timely blow to the unfashionable traditional media.
As for the Kenyan media for whom the bill has direct impact, shock is an understatement. Just the other day, tea and a photo-op at Statehouse was the hottest ticket in town. Now the members of the Fourth Estate are learning, if you jump into bed with someone, do not be surprised if they screw you.
Before jumping in on the debate which was unfolding on my social media space I took time to read up on the laws, bills and amendments in question.
There is the Kenya Information & Communication Act of 1998 which is subject to the 2013 amendment Bill which sailed through parliament and now awaits Presidential assent. Then there is the Media Council Bill 2013 which in MY reading repeals part/all of the Media Act 2007.
Both the KIC Amendment 2013 and Media Council Bill are being pushed by Aden Dualle, Leader of Majority in Parliament and also Hawk-Extraordinaire for Jubilee. I am unsure whether he is fronting the bills in his individual capacity or as the government head in parliament.
As a matter of full disclosure, I am a journalist or is it broadcaster or is it media practitioner? It depends on which of definition of the diverse media laws you read. But more importantly, I am a Kenyan worried about the slippery slope the country has embarked on. Echoes of China or Uganda anyone?
The Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) is to be replaced with the Communication Authority of Kenya (CAK).
According to Section 6A, the board of the CAK shall comprise of a Chair who will be appointed by the President, Principal Secretaries of Information, Interior, National Budget and 7 persons appointed by the Cabinet Secretary of Information.
According to Section 6E, the CAK Board will establish a Broadcasting Standards Committee. This committee will administer broadcasting content, formulate media standards and regulate and monitor compliance.
Section 34 of KIC Amendment Bill 2013 seeks to amend Section 102 of the 1998 Act. This is the part dealing with the Appeals Tribunal. In 1998 Act, the tribunal was made up of a chair who is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, 2 people chosen by the Minister for Communication and 2 people forwarded by Media Council of Kenya. In the 2013 Amendment, the tribunal is to be made up of a Chair who is a Judge appointed by JSC and 4 people chosen by the Cabinet Secretary of Information. Quorum is 3 = Chairman + 2 members.
Surprise addition to this part is the punitive fines to media houses and threat of fines and deregistration to individual journalists. (This was not on the amendment put forward so my take is this was an on the floor of parliament addition.)
The Appeals Tribunal part of the KIC Amendment 2013 Bill is what has caused major furore. Mega fines with threat of accounts getting attached is sure to get tongues wagging. But in my (very layman) opinion I think this KIC Amendment 2013 Bill in totality is in bad faith.
The entire board of the CAK which has sweeping powers is made up entirely of government functionaries. How can they be fair?
The Broadcasting Standards Committee will be established by the CAK. Its function of to administer content, formulate standards, regulate and monitor compliance has a terrible ring to it. Does this not sound like some Communist country in the 1980s not Kenya in 2013? This to me is even worse than the Appeals Tribunal.
Then there is the threat of suspension and de-registration of journalists. Is there/was there a registration of journalists conducted? And just to ensure absolute supplication, there is the threat of individual fines up to the tune of one million which may lead to journalist accounts getting attached.
This the bill in front of the President.
It is quite a long bill which for large parts addresses itself to the nitty-gritty’s of the running of the Media Council. However, it still finds space to address journalists and journalism.
The first thing I did in this Bill was to re-read the Code of Conduct for Journalists which is in the Second Schedule. By and large have no problem with the code. Methinks, it should be required reading for all with an interest in media.
My reading of Section 8-11 is that for all intents and purpose appointment to the 7 member Media Council is in the hands of the Cabinet Secretary of Information. Does this then not make the Council a government puppet?
According to Section 45(a) the Cabinet Secretary of Information may from time to time amend the Code of Conduct for Journalists. Imagine that?
Section 28 talks of the council setting up a Complaints Commission whose functions are in Section 32.
Perhaps lawyers can illuminate this. How does Section 34 of Appeals Tribunal in the Kenya Information & Communication Amendment Bill 2013 relate/co-exist with Section 32 of the Media Council Bill 2013?
This Bill is still snaking its way through Parliament.
Let me remind everyone that freedom of the media is enshrined in the constitution under Article 34. I also understand that no freedom is absolute. Actually, regulation of the media is a constitutional requirement under Article 34 (5c).
However, I totally dispute that government through the Cabinet Secretary of Information and his lackeys can be trusted to be 100% decider of what the media can or cannot broadcast. That is wrong on so many levels and I shudder to imagine that the Jubilee government is seeking to return us to the dark old days.
The two bills as presently constituted are wrong both in the letter and spirit of the law. Will President Uhuru Kenyatta stand on the right or wrong side of this debate? Let’s wait and see.
GOD BLESS KENYA.
(all images are courtesy of Google)