The Kenyan media and human rights groups are protesting against the controversial Media Bill passed by the Kenyan Parliament last week. The Bill is waiting Presidents Mwai Kibaki's assent to become part of the Kenyan law. Kenyan bloggers have been analyzing it, blogging about demonstrations in opposition to the Bill and publishing photos of demonstrators in the streets of Nairobi.
One of the clauses, which seems to draw intense opposition is the one that requires editors to disclose identity of unnamed party in a news article: “When a story includes unnamed parties who are not disclosed and the same becomes the subject of a legal tussle as to who is meant, then the editor shall be obligated to disclose the identity of the party or parties referred to.”
Richard Mbuthia considers the whole Media Bill “pretty dark”:
The whole of the Bill seems pretty dark but certain clauses in it come out nakedly in attack of our fundamental freedoms. A clause in the Media Bill forces journalists to divulge their source of information in the event that their stories ‘stir a court case’.
The purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing. To fulfill this task, journalism's first obligation is to the truth and its first loyalty is to the citizens. Period.
This means that nothing should be allowed to come in-between. The noxious Bill states that journalists will be required to name the sources to their stories should the stories they write warrant a court case. This, to me, is tantamount to paralyzing and curtailing media activity. Why do I say this? Sources of information are the lifeblood of journalists whether working in print or broadcast industries. Who would want to volunteer ‘sensitive information’ to the media knowing too well that they could be exposed to the public should someone find the story unflattering and drag the media outlet to court? Does this mean, then, that the office of the ‘good old’ whistle-blower is in its death throes?
The controversial Media Bill was passed by only 27 MPs. The Kenyan Parliament has over 200 MPs. Kenyan Pundit writes, “Outrageous MP performance continues”:
The controversial Media Bill was passed with only a dismaying 27 MPs in attendance, that’s even less than what’s required for quorum so we wonder how that is legal.
Assidous wants the names of the 27 MPs to be released to the public:
What we need is a comprehensive list of the 27 MPs who were in the chamber on that day, then we the voters can show them who really has the final say on matters legislative!
LSK vows to find Media Law in court if the President assents. I’m curious as to how successful a challenge to the shortfall in quorum when the Bill was passed would be. And where were all those MPs who are now critiquing the Bill when the Bill was being passed? Kenyan politicians = useless.
Mental Acrobatics and Rebecca Wanjiku have taken part in street demonstrations. Mental Acrobatics writes about last week's demonstration in Nairobi:
On Wednesday afternoon I joined civil society activist in a peaceful march to parliament to present a petition to parliament protesting against the Media Bill passed by parliament which is now awaiting presidential consent and the corrupt, immoral, illegal “gratuity” payment Kenyan legislators are attempting to award themselves.
Rebecca Wanjiru writes about the silent demonstration in Nairobi organized by journalists:
dressed mainly in black and covering their mouths, kenyan media practitioners matched throught the streets of Nairobi, protestitng aganist the media bill.
the early morning march was well attended by all journalists from all media houses. they carried their tools of trade.
Julie Gichuru read the petition at the state law office. the gates were locked and the journalists could only speak from outside.
i think the public is right when it accuses the media of being selfish. just google the hulla balloo about the media bill and you will see the number of pages coming up.
the media went on with the silent demo as a way of making a point to the government.
off course the media was there to cover itself.
This was the first time in the history of Kenya for journalists to take their concerns to the streets:
it is only times like these that one can tell how many journalists in kenya. for once, we rallied to our cause.
it was historic, never before have journalists taken to the streets.
today, editors, writers, photojournalists took to the streets..
The truth is that even as the powerful Kibaki insiders look like they are now retreating at this eleventh hour with their tails firmly between their legs, great irreparable damage has already been done. I personally know of a half a dozen previously Kibaki votes that have evaporated courtesy of this ill-advised media bill. You can be sure that there are many others country-wide.
The question that many voters are asking themselves is what does the Kibaki administration have to hide, so desperately pushing for media regulation just before the election?
Even communication minister Mutahi Kagwe sounded tired and nervous answering questions from the press about the controversial bill yesterday. My wild guess is that he is irritated because he advised against it but was ignored and ended up just following orders in pushing it. You tend to get really angry when they tide turns and you are proved right.
Dan Teng'o argues that the government drafted the Media Bill because of “apparent lack of clear and adequate structures for media self-regulation and accountability.” According to Dan, the Media Council of Kenya has not done its job of protecting the public:
So far, the voluntary Media Council of Kenya has been the most vocal advocate of self-regulation and a stalwart defender of the media and journalists. However, it should also consider its responsibility to the public. As presently sonstituted, the council strikes me more as a reactive institution keen on defending media organisations than as a proactive self-regulatory body genuinely working in the public's interest.
Other than serving as a self-preservation agency for the media, the council, which was calved as a reaction to the government's attempt to regulate the media, doesn't seem to do much to champion the public's interest. According to the council's Website , its stakeholders are the Media Owners Association, Kenya Union of Journalists( whatever is left of it), the Editors Guild, Kenya Correspondents Association, media non-governmental organisations, training institutions, state/public media and the alternative press.
It seems odd that ordinary members of the public, whose interest is often invoked in the media's battles against government gags, don't feature anywhere in the council, which receives and adjudicates complaints against the media. The council should be independent of the hegemonic power of media organisations and assume a tripartite model structured around the separate and distinct interests of the public, journalists, and media owners or managers.
The media bill pending presidential assent seems to have turned to a tsunami of proportions that cant be quantified at the moment. And trust the media and all goodwill Kenyans to milk as much political capital as is possible.
In yesterday's papers for instance, the editorial as well as the opinions were all about the bill as well as reasons why Kibaki shouldn't assent the said bill. One even told him that he was ‘child of the media freedom’, reminding him about one press conference in the early nineties when he went on holiday to Mombasa and returned to Nairobi as the DP chairman! Very True.