During Kenya’s 45th independence celebrations on December 12th, the media engaged the government in confrontations and street protests over the Kenya Communication Amendment bill, a law that if passed will give the government rights to regulate electronic media in terms of content. While this kind of regulations exist in other countries, the Kenyan media has protested against the bill and the government has accused the media of following capitalistic interests and not using the available consultation avenues.
There have been accusations and counteraccusations for days, and Kenyan blogs have brought out the alternative view, which has not exactly been represented in the mainstream media.
Activists arrested at the Langata police station in Nairobi on Kenyan Independence day 2008 for wearing t-shirts advocating press freedom and calling for MPs to start paying taxes. (Picture by mentalacrobatics)
Sukuma Kenya wrote about the arrest of journalists and members of the public who participated in the protests or were caught up in the mayhem:
Caroline Mutoko of Kiss FM and Mwalimu Mati of Mars Group Kenya are among those who have this morning been arrested at the Nyayo National Stadium, Nairobi. The two have been taken to the Langata police station. 60 other Kenyans are also being bundled into waiting police vehicles and it appears that it is planned to distribute those arrested in various police stations across the city.
The 62 are part of a larger group of Kenyans that had gone to attend the national event at the Nyayo National Stadium as we mark Jamhuri Day today and use the forum to address our leaders, making the Kenyan citizen’s grievances heard.
They were all wearing black T Shirts with the message “No Tax for MPs, No Tax for Us” which is part of the campaign being run in conjunction with Kenyans who care and university students to protest against MPs refusal to pay tax.
Kenyan Pundit, who also quoted Sukuma Kenya, offered several updates on the demonstration arrests such as this one:
Four colleagues in Garissa remain in detention for simply trying to present the Provincial Commissioner with a memorandum.
Kumekucha feels that the legislators are “teaching” the media a lesson for exposing the MP’s decision to vote against a motion seeking to tax MPs:
Tenth Parliament served the media sweet cold revenge marinated in the Kenya Communication (Amendment) Bill. And the Kenyan media must have seen it coming after their spirited exposure of the MPs’ lust and opposition to have their salaries taxed. Welcome to Kenyan politics and way of life where national good only stretches as far as personal aggrandizement.
The-xposer wonders why the bill was rushed through Parliament before consultations were over:
Now it is clear why the Kenyan legislators rushed to pass the Media Bill, without proper analysis…….If revenge would be the code of operation in this nation, what will happen to morallity? How many Bills have been passed out of revenge???
Kenyan Entrepreneur labels the current problem as a symptom of poor leadership from the coalition government that came to power after the post election violence at the beginning of this year:
I’ve said before that Kibaki should rule like a dictator, but that does not mean curtailing the freedoms of the press, which the public has come to rely on. I meant, that he should force through the fundamental changes that the country needs (without trying to look for consensus from parliament)–but changes that will have a POSITIVE effect on the country in the long-term. Things like, forcing the KRA to withdraw taxes from Mp’s salaries & daring the MP’s to go againt you or arresting people who pee on the streets or litter or spit, etc, etc…..So, it would be dictatorial yes, but in the long run, it would be good for the country. That’s the Lee Kuan Yew model: forced, positive, change.
Kumekucha sheds more light on what the bill intends to achieve:
Legalizing police raids on media house is akin to watering the seed of political incest where the Government would pretend to police itself in Parliament. Well, the politicians have selfishly made the bed and must accept to lie of it with all the thorns sprouting underneath. Self-regulation with independent arbiters is the practice the world over to have media remain responsible but not in Kenya.
After all is said and done, Capt. Collins Wanderi Munyiri at Kenya Imagine blames the media for failing to take the necessary steps:
But is the media entirely blameless? It celebrated in September 2007 when Hon. Mutahi Kagwe, then Minister for Information and Communications, withdrew the same bill from Parliament citing the need for further consultations, and the need to introduce clauses to deal with cyber crime as well as to protect the optical-fibre cable. My commentary on this Bill was published in the Business Daily on 4th September, 2007. Instead of using the window created by the withdrawal of the bill to highlight its weaknesses and lobby for the removal of the offending clauses, the media concentrated on political sideshows.
Over the years, journalists in East Africa have failed to establish an effective mechanism of self regulation. The results have been catastrophic. In Kenya, wayward journalists have elevated politicians to the level of demigods through slanted coverage. Indeed, political content takes up most of the editorial space in the electronic and print media. My friends in the media openly admit that prominent politicians always have the press in tow because they generously tip (read bribe) reporters for favourable coverage. Any wonder, then, that all media houses in East Africa routinely ignore the professionals and businesses who sustain them through advertisement?
The post further accuses the media of cultivating the characters that the legislators currently demonstrate:
It is the prominence accorded to politics by the media in East Africa which has cultivated unparalleled arrogance in MPs, giving them a sense of invincibility. MPs, who often bribe reporters, believe they can ride roughshod over them and everyone else. I know that politicians bankroll journalists for favourable coverage and I have names of several reporters across all the media houses in Kenya; some do not even hide, they brag about it.
I think it is okay for the media bill to be signed. The media was mentioned as one institution that contributed to the clashes last year after the elections.
To avoid a repeat of this the media should be seriously gaged.
Regulation of the electronic media in Kenya is an action whose time has come. There can be no partial regulation, the media has to be accountable to be credible. During the post election violence, a number of FM stations played a big role in spreading hatred…not to mention perpetrators of hate sms, email, MMS etc.
The ICT sector is soon going to be a vibrant part of the economy, a lot of industries are springing from this sector…however, the scary part is there is no law(S) to make them accountable and responsible. I support the president’s assent to the bill…power with no control is dangerous.