Draconian law to gag media now in force

Monday December 16 2013

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The draconian media Bill passed by the National Assembly two weeks ago is now law.

President Kenyatta has signed into law the contentious Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Bill passed by MPs on December 4 before they went on Christmas recess.

House Speaker Justin Muturi told the Nation Monday evening that President Kenyatta assented to the Bill on Wednesday.

With this move, the Act creates a government-controlled body with power to punish journalists and media houses for their work.

Interestingly, the House also passed a law that establishes a self-regulatory mechanism for the media but puts a government-controlled tribunal on top of it.

The net effect is a law that severely restricts press freedom and breaches the constitutional protections granted journalists.

The media Bills were passed during a chaotic sitting chaired by temporary speaker Rachel Shebesh (Nairobi County, TNA).

Most of the MPs in the chamber were drawn from the Jubilee Coalition. Their Cord counterparts left en masse in protest after several failed attempts to postpone debate on the matter.

President Kenyatta had made changes to the Bill when it was first passed by the MPs. He made amendments to transfer control of institutions with authority to punish journalists and their employers from the National Assembly to the Executive and the Presidency. (READ: Uhuru’s changes to media Bill criticised)

The new Act retains the Sh20 million fine against media houses proposed by MPs and expands offences for which media houses can be punished by a government-controlled tribunal.

A day before the House passed the Bill, Energy, Information and Communication Committee chairman Jamleck Kamau withdrew the changes to the then proposed law that had been agreed upon with media interest groups.

Cord MPs argued that the Constitution does not allow the President to prescribe laws for Parliament as this would create the possibility that he can come up with bad legislation and force it on MPs.