Statement by the Ministry of Information and Communications on the Local Media's Reaction to the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008

The Government is appalled by the false and misleading impression created by sections of the media regarding the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008, that is now awaiting Presidential Assent after it went through Parliament last week.

The Government wishes to take this early opportunity to set the record straight on this matter.
We wish to restate for the umpteenth time that the Government has no intention of gagging the media. Indeed, this Government has remained firmly committed to the freedom of the press and it will continue to be so.

We want to assure the media and the general public that the Government has no intention either in the present or in the future of undermining press freedom.

We have always embraced the spirit of dialogue with the media in the understanding that a true democratic culture demands that we uphold the principles espoused in the art of compromise - not coercion.

It is, therefore, very disheartening to see that at a critical time like this, and on a debate concerning a matter of such importance as the regulation of the broadcasting industry, the media have decided to give a lopsided debate and kill any dissenting views. Indeed, since the Bill went through Parliament last Thursday, the media have decided to black out most of the views in favour of the Bill, giving prominence to sideshows.

We also wish to point out that Section 88 which has become subject of the current debate, is not among the amendments proposed by the Minister for Information and Communications. Rather, this clause is in the Kenya Communications Act, 1998, which has been in existence for 10 years.
Further, the Bill has been wrongly dubbed the Media Bill.

It is in fact a Communications Bill whose intention is to harmonise the converged information and communications sectors.

With the convergence of technologies, it has become necessary to amend the Kenya Communications Act, 1998, to embrace the new and emerging media.

It is important for everyone concerned to know that liberalisation of the media was not accompanied by commensurate policy and legal framework, including guidelines on such issues as broadcast programme content. The proposed amendments are intended to streamline and introduce regulatory provisions in electronic transactions and broadcasting.

The Amendment Bill seeks to address the following policy objectives among others:

a) Create regulatory, advisory and dispute resolution bodies to support the implementatioon of the national information and communication technologies policy.

b) Provide new regulatory framework for broadcasting stations and services.

c) Provide for the licensing of certification service providers and country top level domain administrators; and

d) Provide for electronic transaction-related offences including cybercrime and re-programming of mobile telephones.

In broadcasting, the Bill, inter alia, proposes to empower the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) to license and regulate broadcasting service as well as promote the development of local content in addition to allocating frequencies.

The Bill further seeks to enable CCK to set broadcasting standards, and sets up a mechanism for handling complaints by the public.

In Electronic Transactions, the Bill provides a legal framework for e-commerce through legal recognition of electronic records and signatures. It also creates offences with respect to electronic records and transactions including cybercrime, destruction of electronic records and re-programming of mobile telephones.

The Bill also proposes the establishment of the Universal Service Fund to be financed by, among others, levies from licensees.

The Fund will be used to promote information and communication technologies services in rural and other under-served areas.

The Bill also has provisions seeking to empower CCK to ensure fair competition in the sector.
Kenyans will agree that due to the lack of a broadcasting regulatory framework, we have witnessed an unprecedented broadcast of unsuitable content including, I dare say, pornographic content.

The Government has embraced the spirit of dialogue with the media and all stakeholders in this matter and we are dismayed by the lopsided and misleading impression being created by the media, suggesting that the Government has ill motive in publishing this Bill. Indeed, the debate right now is not about media freedom.

The agenda being created by the media is clearly a tactic to divert public attention from the salient issues of broadcast regulation by introducing issues such as the taxation of Members of Parliament and the food crisis in the country to demonise this country's leadership.

We wish to inform the public that the Ministry encouraged and maintained a spirit of dialogue and negotiation with media stakeholders since July when we published the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008.

The current heat is obviously intended by its chief proponents to throw away the baby with the bathwater. Today, Kenya is presented with an opportunity to make a vital decision to enact a law that will regulate the electronic media, by promoting ethical standards and enhancing our moral values.

While press freedom is a cardinal pillarof democracy, an unethical and unprofessional media is a threat to peace and can cause great harm as evidenced during the Rwanda genocide of 1994.
Kenya came to the brink of a similar crisis early this year partly due to the airing of hate speeches by some FM radio stations.

That the country is in dire need of a legal framework for the regulation of the electronic media is not in dispute. The responsibility of ensuring that there are appropriate broadcasting policies that promote the national good is our sacred duty.

We must not, as a country, allow the heat of the moment to define our terms of social engagement. Kenyans must be called upon to reject the whipping up of emotions that deny them the fuller view of the issues that are pertinent to their lives.

It is my sincere hope that the media will digest this particular criticism in good faith so that in future they can promote dialogue.

The Government would like to restate that we mean well and remain committed to media freedom.

In addition to this statement, and to further set the record straight, the Ministry hereby reproduces the following:

(i) The broadcasting portion of the Bill

(ii) Section 88 of the Kenya Communication Act, 1998 (this section is not part of the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008).

In conclusion, it is saddening to note that the media have gone ahead to publish personalized attacks on the Minister for Information and Communications and other Ministry officials.

This negates the genuine and open engagement that the Ministry and the Government have had with the media in the past:

Dr. Bitange Ndemo
Permanent Secretary
Ministry of Information and Communications

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