Tuesday, November 5, 2013

These obnoxious Bills couldn’t have gone so far without official sanction

President Uhuru Kenyatta shares a light moment with Ms Jamila Mohamed of NTV when he hosted the Editors' Guild Media Breakfast at State House, Nairobi. The evidence tendered for the alleged honeymoon between government and media is the State House breakfast in July where I played a prominent role as chairman of the Kenya Editors’ Guild. PHOTO/FILE

President Uhuru Kenyatta shares a light moment with Ms Jamila Mohamed of NTV when he hosted the Editors' Guild Media Breakfast at State House, Nairobi. The evidence tendered for the alleged honeymoon between government and media is the State House breakfast in July where I played a prominent role as chairman of the Kenya Editors’ Guild. PHOTO/FILE 

By MACHARIA GAITHO
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I supposed we, the media, ought to be grateful that President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have heard our pleas.

I’m not impressed.

The question is how did such an obnoxious law as the Kenya Information and Communications Act navigate its way through all the process to win passage in Parliament in the first place?

How did the equally reprehensible Media Council Bill make its way through all the processes to the debate state?

I don’t know who will review the anti-media laws and determine whether they are unconstitutional and not worth presidential assent.

The same individuals or organs that shepherded the proposed laws in the first place and determined them suitable would be inclined to judge them kosher.

BUCK-PASSING

We are seeing a lot of buck-passing and finger-pointing from Information, Communications and Technology Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, Majority Whip Aden Duale, and the chairman of the relevant departmental committee, Mr Jamleck Kamau.

When the s**t hit the fan, each started calling media contacts to say “it wasn’t me”, pointing fingers at one or both of the others, and every which way but up.

All three left their fingerprints in the changes that bastardised the drafts approved after many rounds of consultations involving the media, the ministry, the parliamentary committee and the Commission for Implementation of the Constitution.

I refuse to believe that any legislation would reach that far with the Cabinet in the dark.

These Bills designed to silence the media and therefore take away the rights of every Kenyan to receive and impart ideas, opinions and information are not freelance initiatives.

Dr Matiang’i, Mr Duale and Mr Kamau are Jubilee government agents shepherding Motions and Bills that must have been approved by the Cabinet.

If the contentious laws somehow by-passed the Cabinet and the sharp legal mind of Attorney-General Githu Muigai, then something is very wrong with the way this government is run.

SILENCING KENYANS

Kenyans must understand any attempt to gag the media is usually just the beginning of an onslaught aimed at silencing Kenyans and taking us back to the bad old days of monolithic rule and oppression that criminalised all independent thought and actions.

I have seen a wide variety of comment on social media and elsewhere and discerned an interesting pattern.

From the right, many of President Kenyatta’s supporters posting on Facebook and Twitter are emphatic that a ‘rogue’ media must be firmly put in its place until it learns to respect authority.

From the left, opposition supporters and civil society accuse the media of reaping what it sowed for allegedly abdicating its watchdog role and going into bed with the Jubilee government.

Both sides see things in virulently partisan terms, in either black or white, and are blind to the vast sea of grey hues in-between.

To Mr Kenyatta’s supporters, a media that does not bend to the President’s will must be acting at the behest of opposition leader Raila Odinga and must therefore be silenced.

They refuse to see the simple point that gagging the media means gagging themselves.

I wonder where they will direct their vitriol if the President listens to sober counsel and declines assent to dictatorial laws.

From the other side, a media that did not declare Mr Odinga the winner of the disputed presidential election can only be in President Kenyatta’s pocket.

This particular viewpoint pisses me off, and here I must declare my interest.

STATE HOUSE BREAKFAST

The evidence tendered for the alleged honeymoon between government and media is the State House breakfast in July where I played a prominent role as chairman of the Kenya Editors’ Guild.

I don’t regret honouring that breakfast invitation because I know that no pact was struck; and it was an opportunity to publicly raise with the President concerns about the proposed media laws.

Anybody who actually cared to listen to what was said will attest to this.

Any newsman would be foolish to snub key decision-makers on partisan grounds.

We will continue to engage with the President and the Deputy President, the leader of the opposition, Cabinet secretaries, Members of Parliament and all other parties holding public office or leadership positions.

mgaitho@ke.nationmedia.com

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