Karua hints at review of media Bill

Friday December 19 2008

Justice minister Martha Karua and the Editors

Justice minister Martha Karua and the Editors Guild chairman Macharia Gaitho during a dinner organised by the Editors Guild on Thursday. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE  

By ODHIAMBO ORLALE

The Government is ready to amend the controversial clauses in the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, Justice minister Martha Karua has said.

The minister, however, defended the Bill, saying it had clauses which would benefit the media and the wider society.

“One of the main complaints about the Bill is in respect of the powers conferred on the minister (Information and Communication) for the time being responsible for Internal Security on the occurrence of an emergency,” she told editors at a Nairobi hotel on Thursday night.

Earlier, the chairman of the Editors Guild, Mr Macharia Gaitho, had appealed to the minister to come to the rescue of the media, saying they felt threatened by the draconian Bill.

The minister proposed that the best way forward in the stand-off between the media and Parliament would be to have a proper and sober analysis of the Bill to identify genuine issues of concern, which could then be addressed in an amendment.

Ms Karua, who is the deputy leader of Government Business in Parliament, noted that what the media were not emphasizing was that the said powers had not been granted by the Bill, but were in Section 88 of the Kenya Communications Act 1998 which has been in existence for 10 years.

Make changes

She maintained that the controversial Bill, which is waiting presidential assent, did not make changes to Section 88.

But, speaking on behalf of the Media Owners Association, Mr Joseph Odindo cautioned that the same piece of legislation may be abused by future governments. He appealed to the minister to use her office to have the Bill referred back to Parliament by the President so that the contentions clauses could be amended.

But Ms Karua said it was internationally accepted that in a duly declared state of emergency, states were entitled to derogate from fundamentally rights and freedom.

On the composition of membership of the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), Ms Karua blamed it on the original Act passed a decade ago.

She defended the power it vests in the CCK to prescribe programme codes saying others countries such the UK had similar legislation.