Friday, January 8, 2010

New media laws herald tough times

Information and Communications Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo. PHOTO/ FILE

Information and Communications Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo. PHOTO/ FILE 

By KENNETH OGOSIA

The government on Friday gazetted new laws that will regulate the broadcast media, setting the stage for a battle with Media Owners and journalists.

Information and Communication PS Bitange Ndemo announced that the Kenya Communications (Broadcasting) regulations 2009 became law from January 1, this year, and TV stations must now brace for hard times including possible closure.

The chairman of the Kenya Editors’ Guild, Mr Macharia Gaitho, described the regulations as retrogressive and obnoxious.

The Ministry of Information, he said, had employed subterfuge and deceit in publishing the regulations despite an agreement with media partners last year mediated by Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Mr Gaitho recalled that when the industry opposed repressive amendments to the Communications Act, Mr Odinga called a meeting attended by both the ministry and media representatives.

Both sides agreed on a proposal tabled by Attorney-General Amos Wako, that removed the clauses seen by the media as repressive.

However, said Mr Gaitho, the ministry had gone behind the agreement by reintroducing, under the guise of regulations, the offensive sections struck out from the Act.

The toughest rules include censorship of content, limiting sex talk on FM radio stations and adult movies on television to after 10pm, banning of cross media ownership and setting rules for political coverage during general elections.

Broadcast council

Dr Ndemo said implementation had not started because media owners had not sent names of nominees to the Broadcast Council, but warned that they will be shut out of the process if they delayed.

“There is nowhere in world where there is absolute freedom. We have to curtail some freedom for the sake of the majority,” the PS said.

The new rules also introduced term licences where media owners will have seven years before reapplying for frequencies unlike in the past when the period was unlimited. Those with inactive frequencies will have to surrender them.

“People have stocked frequencies and competent and enterprising Kenyans cannot get them... Our Parliament cannot get a frequency for broadcast media. This is public property that must not be speculated,” added the PS.

Any person who contravenes any provision of these regulations commits an offence and on conviction shall be liable to a fine not exceeding a million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both.

The laws state in part that a licensee shall generally ensure that no broadcasts by its station contains the use of offensive language, including profanity and blasphemy, presents sexual matters in an explicit and offensive manner, or glorifies violence.

Should not incite

The content should not incite or perpetuate hatred or vilify any person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual preference, age, disability, religion or culture.

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