Media Industry statement on the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting yesterday published a statement in the daily newspapers purporting to lay out the truth about the controversial Kenya Communications Amendment Bill, 2008.

We note with concern that the ministry has not responded to the specific objections raised by the media industry about the Bill, but has resorted to generalised statements accusing the media of impure motive.

The statement was replete with inaccuracies and distortions about the implications of the Bill and the consultations which took place before it was passed by Parliament, without most of the amendments Dr Bitange Ndemo had promised the media industry representatives would be included in the final document.

There were numerous meetings held between media stakeholders and the Ministry of Information and Communications, the Parliamentary Committee on Energy and Communications, Prime Minister, Vice President, Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister and other interested parties.

But we were dismayed that many important proposals and amendments made by the industry to make this Bill democratic and respectful of free communication were ignored.

Of particular concern is the manner in which the Bill was sneaked into Parliament for passage on December 10 despite the media industry being assured that it would be held back pending agreement on contentious issues.

The ministry states that the Government remains committed to media freedom and has no intention of gagging the media. That is far from the truth. The effect of a law that gives the minister and the CCK authority to issue guidelines and edicts on broadcast content and programming amounts directly to interference with the operations of the media and its editorial independence

The media industry recognises that it is necessary to update the Kenya Communications Act, 1998, to embrace new developments in communications.

But the regulations proposed for the Broadcast media under the new amendments, particularly in regard to ethics, standards and complaints, are already provided for under The Media Act, 2007, which established a Complaints Commission under the Media Council of Kenya. Yet the Bill creates a parallel regulatory mechanism controlled by the minister that duplicates the work of the independent Media Council.

Section 88 of the current Communications Act allows the minister for Internal Security to declare any situation "a public emergency" or cite "interests of public safety and tranquility" in order to raid broadcast stations and seize equipment.

The media industry repeatedly proposed an amendment which would ensure that such action could only be taken under a State of Emergency declared by the President in the manner defined by the Constitution. But in its selective amendment of the Act, the ministry ignored the proposals and the excessive powers of the Minister for Internal Security were left intact
This law has been abused before — in the police raid against The Standard Group and to justify the ban on live broadcast after the disputed elections.

Section SB: Independence of the commission
The ministry's statement avoided reference to the industry's concerns about the lack of independence of the Communications Commission of Kenya.

The commission's independence is a mere declaration under section 5B.

The Commission is executive-appointed without the participation of stakeholders. Parliament or any other interest groups — The Chair of the Commission is appointed by the President, four of its members are Permanent Secretaries (again Presidential appointees) and the remaining seven are ministerial appointees.

This all-powerful commission will receive "policy guidelines" on the broadcast industry "of a general nature". Shouldn't members of the Commission's Board be approved by Parliament? And given its level of expertise, should the minister issue guidelines to or take advice from the board?

Section 46 (c, h): Programming
This section gives the Communications Commission of Kenya unilateral powers to prescribe to broadcasters, without consulting them, what time, type and manner of programmes to air. A programme code as proposed is desirable but it has to be agreed between the industry and the Commission in order to guarantee editorial independence. Enforcement of the Code of Ethics and Practice, and complaints over media content, should be left to the Media Council of Kenya.

Section 46 (i): Responsibility and Good Taste
It is an unquestionable responsibility of broadcasters to ensure content is not immoral or vulgar. But under section 46(i), the ministry seeks to legislate good taste as a standard upon which a broadcaster can be held criminally liable. In a country with 42 ethnic groups, the media will promote national unity and cultural diversity.

This cannot be achieved by imposing on broadcasters legislation to cultivate an abstract "Kenyan identity" and a value of what is good or abhorrent as defined by the Information Ministry.

Section 46 (c, d) Licensing of broadcasters
The Commission is given sweeping powers to issue or deny licences. Under this section an applicant can be denied a license for failing to fulfill, among other requirements, "such other conditions as may be prescribed".This clause is too open-ended and is susceptible to abuse by a Commission that is only answerable to the minister.

Hate speech and post-election violence
We reject the claim by the Information Ministry that the media in its entirety was responsible for hate speech that contributed to post-election violence, and that the Kenyan media is unethical and unprofessional.This is selective indictment of the media calculated to absolve the various elements of Kenyan society, including politicians and government agencies, who were directly responsible for the post-election crisis as documented in the Waki Report.

From the above it is evident that there are fundamental issues that must be addressed in the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008 as passed by Parliament.

It is for this reason that we are asking the President not to assent to the Bill in its present form.

  • Media Industry Committee:
  • Media Owners Association
  • Kenya union of Journalists
  • Kenya Association of Journalists
  • Assocation of Media Women of Kenya
  • Kenya Correspondents Association
  • Media Educators and Trainers Association

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One Response to Media Industry statement on the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008

Anonymous said...

the media has a lot of homework to do. And who regulates the MOA? As far as they are concerned, it is a group composed on biased individuals all who have links, powerful links to government. Lets clean the MOA then clean the media. Too much vulguar language in our airwaves and our tubes. Who is controlling who?